Images of Simon Bolivar adorn new Leeward Community College Chancellor Carlos Peñaloza’s office. The South American hero is a reflection of Peñaloza’s Venezuelan roots.

He was born and raised on the northern coast in Valencia and grew up enjoying the region’s beautiful beaches. Political unrest and the drive for meaningful educational and career paths drew Peñaloza to New York City, where he graduated from high school and entered Queensborough Community College.

“I’m proud to be a community college graduate,” he says. “I do believe if it had not been for the faculty and staff who are committed to student success at Queensborough Community College, I would not be here today.”

Carlos Penaloza
Carlos Peñaloza

One chemistry professor, in particular, instilled in his students the belief that they could achieve their degrees and move forward. The lesson in empowerment resonated with Peñaloza.

“At various institutions that I’ve served, I’ve taken a little snippet of my transcript where I hadn’t done so well academically, and I’ve posted that on my door, and I say, ‘We’re not all perfect and yet we’re still able to overcome those challenges, and do really good things,’” he explains.

Peñaloza last served as provost and chief academic officer at Saint Luke’s College of Health and Sciences in Kansas City, Missouri. He has more than a decade of biomedical research experience and has worked actively with underserved populations.

He envisions Leeward CC as a community-serving institution that is the first choice for students and employees. “It is a family, where everyone thrives from the commitment of employees and for student success,” Peñaloza says.

In order to achieve this vision, his top priorities are:

  1. Reducing the achievement gaps among different student populations, with a special focus on Native Hawaiians.
  2. Supporting creativity in the college’s faculty and staff.
  3. Sharing Leeward CC’s story to the community and industry to build new partnerships.

Peñaloza says, “What attracted me most [to Leeward CC] are the stories and the longevity of its employees. It’s very telling when you see that we have a current faculty member that’s a founding faculty member for the college. It speaks to the longevity, the happiness and the support that folks have here at this institution.”

Some examples he cites are faculty commitment to engaging students in summer research, innovation in reducing textbook costs and recognition of Leeward’s outstanding career and technical education programs.

“Leeward is very pro piloting and trying new things for the success of our students. That’s something that we just don’t see in very many institutions and to get it from the faculty and the staff is even more powerful,” Peñaloza says. “That’s where we are today. Leeward is leading through creativity and now we just need to tell our story.”

—By Kelli Trifonovitch