Sally Saenger honored with Advocate of the Year Award

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Rodrigo Hernandez

Sally Saenger, recipient of the 2022 Dean Murakami Advocate of the Year Award, stands in front of the James Tannahill Auditorium on Monday, April 4 at City College’s Schott Campus in Santa Barbara, Calif. Saenger said she first taught at the auditorium in 1982.

Bianca Ascencio, Features Editor

Vital Vaqueros shines a light on the individuals who help City College upkeep its reputation of being a favorable campus to study at.

This week The Channels caught up with Sally Saenger.

On March 6-7, City College’s Sally Saenger received the honor of being named the honoree of the Dean Murakami Advocate of the Year Award at the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC) Advocacy and Policy Conference in Sacramento, California. 

“Truly an honor,” Saenger said. “To be recognized like this is really special.” 

Saenger has been a part of the part-time faculty at City College for the better part of 40 years.

“It’s a lot of work advocating for part-time faculty and students. For justice and equity,” Saenger said. She has been teaching swimming for conditioning for credit and non-credit. Her class is open to everyone of all ages and experience levels. 

While at the FACCC conference, Saenger was on the panel “Valuing Student Voices: Working Together Towards Advocacy.” 

“We are big in numbers but we don’t have a lot of power,” said Saenger. “Yes it’s about advocating for faculty but it also aligns me with the mission of the college and community college.” 

Saenger told The Channels about times she had to stand up and be assertive for not only herself but for the good of others. 

“You can’t be a wallflower,” said the non-credit faculty association president. Saenger said she has a pretty good balance of when to say something and when to “let some of those molehills go.” 

“She lobbied legislators all on unpaid time, she made a real impact state-wide. She did this all for the good of her non-credit students,” said Cornelia Alsheimer-Barthel, President of the Faculty Association. “She’s just an amazing person. This college is very lucky to have her, all of us are very lucky to have her.”

Alsheimer-Barthel also was the one who nominated Saenger for the Dean Murakami Advocate of the Year award for her work. 

“I knew I was gonna go up against powerful people in the college,” Saenger said, adding that she knew she needed to do this not only for herself but to help others. “What’s good for a faculty member is good for a student.” 

Speaking up when necessary was something Saenger’s parents instilled in her growing up. 

She credits her parents who inspired her to be active and fight for what’s right in her life. 

Sally Saenger and her mother Helen Ciabattoni at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara, Calif. Courtesy of Saenger.
Sally Saenger and her mother Helen Ciabattoni at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara, Calif. Courtesy of Saenger.

“There was just advocacy in our family from day one,” said Saenger. Her father, Orlando Ciabattoni, was a part of The Arc, a national organization that advocates for people with intellectual disabilities. Her parents supported her brother Michael, who was developmentally disabled, to go to “mainstream” school. 

Aside from teaching at City College, Saenger teaches private classes as well. She said she starts at 7:30 a.m. between teaching swimming for conditioning at Los Baños pool and the Schott Campus. “I tend to have to pop around to 2 or 3 different places.” 

Having started swimming competitively at the age of 5, Saenger’s mother, Helen Ciabattoni, was one of the first female lifeguards in Santa Barbara and Redding, Pennsylvania. 

“I was born in the water practically. Aquatics is my thing, anything in the water,” she said. 

Only one year after she began teaching at City College, Saenger suffered a surfing accident in January of 1983, that caused her to lose sight in her left eye. 

Sally Saenger surfing in Haleiwa, Hawaii in 2015 Courtesy of Saenger.
Sally Saenger surfing in Haleiwa, Hawaii in 2012 Courtesy of Saenger.

“It didn’t stop me from surfing, swimming. If there’s a passion or something you really enjoy… follow it. Don’t let the obstacles or bumps in the road take you off what you wanna do. It’s rewarding when you can get past those bumps and obstacles,” the swimming instructor said.  

“Relating to the students, they keep me young,” said the 66-year-old. “I have been doing this for 40 years, I really like being around students at whatever age. People who wanna learn, grow, and be better citizens.”

She said the best aspect is seeing how it can impact their lives and make their lives healthier. 

“Stay active, keep moving.”