The Great Equalizer
Alumnus Alberto Roman navigates the challenges of leading the largest community college in the state with lessons from his degrees in public administration.
June 6, 2022
Alberto J. Roman, MPA ’03, DPA ’08, knew from a young age that his career was going to be in public service.
Growing up in the Inland Empire in the 1980s and ’90s, his family faced many of the same hurdles acclimating to the United States as other immigrant families from Mexico—a new language, a new city, a new way of life.
“As my family settled in, I began to face the challenges that come with being a person of color in this country,” Roman said.
Experiencing incidents such as the Rodney King uprising in real time as a teenager also had a profound effect on him.
“I remember coming back from my baseball game and watching this debacle happen on TV, this social unrest,” Roman said. “It got me thinking about what was underneath those actions, all the frustration from communities of color, and reflecting upon where we were in America at that time with regards to social justice and racial equity. That got me thinking about what we could do to improve our communities.”
In his college years and early 20s, Roman aspired to be an immigration attorney and ran for elected office before finding his path in higher education. To prepare, he earned both a Master of Public Administration and a Doctor of Public Administration from the University of La Verne while working his way up from local school district to community college management.
Roman’s career trajectory and education perfectly aligned when he was appointed interim president of East Los Angeles College in July 2020 and then was offered a multi-year contract. The community college in Monterey Park is a Hispanic-Serving Institution with more than 35,000 students, many from immigrant families.
“Public education is the great equalizer, and I want to focus on bringing equity to students and communities of color,” he said. “This is where I found my passion…where I felt I could have the highest impact.”
Leading the largest community college in the state during a hot job market and a pandemic, though, has been a rocky road.
“We think we’re making progress and then something else comes up and we have to pivot and change our planning,” Roman said. “Sometimes we have a plan we think will work for the next two years and it changes by the next month.”
To help navigate these challenges, Roman leans on his graduate education in public administration.
He draws from the lessons as he analyzes data to make informed decisions about enrollment, budget, and running the college. The program’s focus on community involvement, too, helped him recognize how important it is to partner with nonprofits, businesses, or government agencies to access resources and shape opportunities for students.
The leadership classes especially, Roman said, prepared him for how to become an effective leader in tumultuous and uncertain times.
“I learned so much about how to become a public servant and an effective leader,” he said. “It really honed me into ultimately what I want the rest of my career to be, and that’s public education.”