AAP staff report
Ukiah, Calif. (June 30, 2014) — Mendocino College recently selected Dr. Ketmani Kouanchao to be their Dean of Student Services at Mendocino College in Ukiah, California. She will begin her duties on July 1st. She is believed to be one of the very first Lao Americans to hold such a position in a U.S. college.
Founded in 1973, Mendocino College serves approximately 4,000 students on its 127-acre campus. Ukiah has 15,000 residents and is known for its arts, vineyards and natural surroundings. At one point, Ukiah was named California’s best small town, and was ranked the sixth best in the entire country.
As the Dean of Student Services, Kouanchao will assist the institution in increasing the number of students transferring to four-year colleges and pursuing their educational goals. A key element of her duties will be ensuring compliance with the California Student Success Act of 2012.
Kouanchao holds a doctorate in Community College Leadership from CSU-Fullerton and received an Honor An Educator scholarship in 2013 for her studies. She was recently recognized by Mt. San Jacinto College as Administrator of the Year, where she had served over a decade assisting students on their diverse journeys.
Born in Savannakhet, Laos, Kouanchao emigrated to the United States in 1979 after the Lao civil war. She grew up in Minneapolis with her four siblings and her parents.
Kouanchao said “My mother was trained to be an educator in Laos. She gave us a lifelong passion for learning.” Her father had been a translator and interpreter in the refugee camps and later helped his fellow refugees find work in the US and adapt to American culture.
Minnesota has the third-largest community of Lao refugees in the U.S. Less than 10 percent of the Lao in America successfully graduate college.
Ketmani Kouanchao has spent most of her life beating those odds. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Minnesota in 1993.
There she majored in Sociology, Public Health and East Asian Studies, but at one point had been advised to drop out. Fortunately, she ignored that advice and went on to earn her Master’s in Education from the University of Minnesota with a concentration on Family Education.
At CSU-Fullerton, her doctoral dissertation was on the holistic identity development of Lao American students.
Kouanchao was previously the Director of Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) for Mount San Jacinto College. Juan Mata, the EOPS/CARE Technician for Mt. San Jacinto College worked closely with her.
“Over the years it was very clear how committed she was to the students and she always went above and beyond to help them follow their dreams,” Mata said. I’m really glad I got to work with her.”
Sunny Chanthanouvong, the executive director of the Lao Assistance Center said “We are so proud to see a Lao American given this opportunity and being a positive role model for our youth. We hope this inspires others to always make education a part of their lives.”
Her youngest sister, the award-winning artist Mali Kouanchao, recalled “Ketmani has always been a nurturer and promoter of education. She was always supportive and encouraging even when I didn’t have energy for school. She was the best sister anyone could ever ask for. We’re all just sad she’s so far away.”
Kouanchao advocates strongly for programs such as EOPS because she understands their importance in helping families escape multigenerational cycles of poverty. “In many homes, these students are the first in their families to ever attend college. I empathize with their struggles and the need for our institutions to be there for them. We need to work together to reduce those barriers. A great nation deserves a great education system.”
In addition, she served as the advisor to an award-winning chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the community college academic honorary society.
Kouanchao was also a mentor to the MSJC Puente Program and she was active in the organizing efforts of the Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education national conference.
When asked if she saw it as a big shift moving from southern California to northern California, Kouanchao replied, “When you go from Laos to the winters of Minnesota, you learn how to adapt to a lot of changes.”
“I’m excited and honored to have this opportunity to work with an amazing campus,” continued Kouanchao. “I want to do what I can to help maintain and grow a tradition of excellence that prepares our community not only for today but for tomorrow’s opportunities.”