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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

Deneatrice Lewis takes on role as the interim vice president of HR

Photo courtesy of Deneatrice Lewis.
Photo courtesy of Deneatrice Lewis.

The smell of strawberries floods Deneatrice Lewis’ nose each time she drives to her home. She didn’t grow up in Oxnard, but she still sees flashes of her childhood. Her mother’s cousins have lived there her whole life, and the strawberry scent proliferates her memories of family visits.

“I remember coming down that hill, and-” she pauses to sigh, “the smell of strawberries was just the best.”

Lewis was raised in La Puente, a suburb of Los Angeles, and she craved the city as a child. Now, she finds peace when commuting to her small town from her job at City College. Oxnard has grown from the farmland she remembers, but it still holds the tranquil reassurance of family.

When she accepted her job as human resources director in City College’s HR department in 2019, Lewis thought she’d find her excitement at work. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, quickly erased any expectations she had of on-campus fun and relationship building. She was discussing the date on which she’d start her job when City College announced its switch to remote learning.

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“It took me a whole year before I worked on campus,” she said.

Lewis worked under the former Vice President of Human Resources Michael Shanahan for nearly three years before he announced his retirement.

“Being hired in the pandemic, you have to quantify it like dog ears,” she said. “So I’ve been here 2½ years, but it’s been like 30 years.”

Now, Lewis has been appointed interim vice president in Shanahan’s absence. Interim Superintendent-President Kindred Murillo acknowledges the importance of Lewis’ role.

“City College is as good as its people and the SBCC HR office is a key part of making sure we attract, retain and take care of our faculty and staff,” she wrote in a statement. “Vice President Lewis brings strong equity-focused, student-centered skills, experience, and education to this role, and is a strong proponent of socially-just and fair human resources practices.”

Lewis began her career after years of retail service. She was a single parent, working at a Wells Fargo bank, when she decided to return to college. At Mt. San Antonio College, she found her passion for education. After completing a degree in organizational management, Lewis worked at several schools, before she realized she could do more.

“I was seeing decisions being made, and actions being taken and I didn’t understand, necessarily, the reasoning behind those, and wanted to participate in those conversations. So, I was like, okay, I need my Master’s,” the interim vice president said.

Lewis was in her forties when she finally returned to school for her graduate degree. She can remember sitting in a classroom at the end of a long row of desks. She could hardly tear her eyes from the door. It would be so easy, she thought, to simply leave.

“The door was right there,” she said. “And I’m looking, like, can I stay?”

Despite her anxieties, Lewis thrives in the school community. Even in her experiences as a student, the interim vice president struggled to contain her curiosities about the professional lives and well being of the educators she came into contact with.

“I’m always curious about people’s path and their journey,” she said.

It’s Lewis’ genuine interest in others’ well-being that drives her to ensure City College is not only a fair, equitable employer, but a thoughtful community of professionals.

“I would never fault someone for wanting to work in a place that values them,” Lewis said.

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