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The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

A passion for teaching leads the new SEL dean across the globe

Delaney Newhouse
Jeanette Chian Brooks speaks to colleagues in the front office of SBCC’s Wake campus in Santa Barbara, Calif. Chian Brooks spends much of her time bonding with and assisting her fellow office staff.

The lights shine down bright. Families and friends sit anxiously with excitement. The exhilarating nerves of anticipation are surging as students, who did not think it possible to graduate, line up to receive their diploma. 

Jeanette Chian Brooks looks up at her students with pride. Not only does she watch them walk across the stage, but into their next chapter of their life. 

Chian Brooks currently serves as the Dean of the School of Extended Learning (SEL) at City College.

“The reason I love the work I do is helping people get to where they want to go,” Chian Brooks said. “It’s my life’s work, my people, it’s where I’m supposed to be.” 

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The School of Extended Learning was launched in the fall of 2017, with 13 institutions throughout Santa Barbara and extending all the way to Carpinteria. It offers free tuition classes in fundamental career skills, practical parenting techniques, and even a vitality program for senior citizens. Students leave with bright smiles on their faces, knowing that they have somewhere to belong despite who they are, or where they come from. According to Chian Brooks, everybody is welcome. 

“[We] seek to eliminate as many barriers to education and continue to develop new curriculum opportunities that can bridge any gaps,” Chian Brooks said. “It’s an enrichment of life.”

Being the youngest daughter of Chinese Immigrant parents, whose “lives were transformed by education,” Chian Brooks always knew that she wanted to work in this particular field. At first, she thought she would become a highschool counselor who would assist students during their transition into college. However, she soon ventured into the revered world of software engineering after receiving a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which led her to work for the company, Microstrategy, in Washington D.C.

Nonetheless, the educational industry continued to call her name. She wanted a change. 

“There was always this thing [I had] for education and teaching,” Chian Brooks said as if being attracted to it by a magnetic force. 

With the desire to delve deeper into teaching, explore more wonders of the world, and to learn more about her family’s roots, a spontaneous trip to teach in China made for the perfect opportunity. So that is exactly what Chian Brooks did. At 25, she packed her bags and moved to Beijing, the destination that changed her view of the world forever. 

“It was really quite extraordinary,” Chian Brooks said, reminiscing on the country’s illustrious landscapes and stepping foot on the timeworn stones of the Great Wall. 

While being fully immersed in China’s culture and history, Chian Brooks spent the next year teaching English to college students. There she discovered more about Chinese citizens’ tight living conditions and financial difficulties, especially for minorities.

“It gave me a global perspective,” Chian Brooks said. “I got to understand how much privilege I grew up with in the US.”

China’s chapter had come to a close, and that is when Chian Brooks found herself in Santa Barbara. She continued her work in software as an educational trainer. However, shortly transitioned into nonprofit work for the next 10 years, where she oversaw educational programs and fundraising for the Multiple Sclerosis Society

The end of 2014 marked a pivotal moment in Chian Brooks’ career. A job opening for Associate Director of the Center of Lifelong Learning at City College was brought to her attention. It was a program that taught a dynamic plethora of fitness, fine arts, foreign languages, and other numerous skills. She saw an opportunity and she soared with it. 

“I really felt like I had come home,” Chian Brooks said. “This is where I wanted to be for the rest of my career.”

Three years later, when SEL had officially been established, Chian Brooks knew she had “found her life’s work.”

As of today, the classes that are offered SEL have been made accessible to even the most marginalized members of our community. Through the transitions program, local inmates have a chance to earn their GED and secure employment opportunities after their release. Because of the endless possibilities that are provided to students, the certificate completion rate has increased by an astonishing 400%. 

Brooks and her team have dedicated their lives to helping students succeed. Chian Brooks emphasizes that she and her colleagues are passionate about lifting up others, giving them hope, and ultimately raising the community’s quality of life.

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