By Sylvana Uribe/Staff Writer
The American Dream has served as a guiding light for many struggling in underserved groups and few are as successful as LBCC Area 3 Trustee Sunny Zia in daring to dream and bringing those dreams to fruition.
At age 9, Zia and her family immigrated to the U.S. seeking a better life as turmoil devastated the Middle East during the Iran-Iraq War. Education was greatly valued in her culture and Zia was the only female in her class to graduate from the University of Tehran in civil engineering during her return to Iran, and she later earned her master’s in civil engineering from U.C. Irvine.
At 26, Zia opened an engineering consulting firm, which she sold to join the Port of Long Beach as its contract compliance manager.
In an interview April 11, Zia said she started in politics through service work. Much of her work strived to involve immigrant communities in mainstream politics and she led fundraising efforts for several political candidates, including Hillary Clinton.
Other community service projects include helping poverty-stricken and displaced individuals overcome their circumstances.
After hearing former Student Trustee Andrea Donado speak about two-tier education and program discontinuances occurring at LBCC, Zia was inspired to take action. Reflecting on the opportunities given to her through access to affordable education, she ran for office and joined the Board in April 2014.
“I could bring a lot of things to the forefront with my background, budgeting, running a business, and being able to contribute and not necessarily just be there to criticize. I’m there to make a difference and come together with the rest of the Board to make improvements, rather than just point to the problem.”
In an interview March 27, Area 5 Trustee Virginia Baxter said she works well with Zia and respects Zia’s willingness to understand her point of view when disagreements occur.
Together, Baxter and Zia contribute toward a scholarship for students in the English as a Second Language program, as a way to make sure this group of students who often come from impacted, underprivileged backgrounds are not forgotten by the college and have access to the resources they need.
“She cares passionately about the students and she’s passionate about the college,” Baxter said. “She has a totally different perspective and I think it’s good that we have diversity on the Board.”
Faith Firmalino, 25, a child development major, said she admires Zia’s accessibility and her efforts to learn about students and employees.
Firmalino said, “She’s thinking outside of her role and thinking about the college as a whole in order for things to work and making everything connect.”
As her time on the Board continues, Zia would like to work with fellow members to see a community and student workforce agreement through a “Hire LBCC” campaign so that businesses who want to collaborate with the college hire its students and graduates. Going beyond creating internships and including a hiring component would set students up with careers capable of supporting their families and encourage them to work and live locally after graduating.
“Nobody wants to talk about the fact that when students graduate, what about the aftermath? I want to be talking about jobs for our students and I think that starts right here at home.”
Zia said she wants the college to keep leading the way toward transparency and address the student achievement gap as well as the persisting issue of low morale. She also hopes to see a more engaged student body.
“I believe in open government,” Zia said. “It’s not a monarchy, that’s the beauty of democracy. This is the people’s college and they have absolutely every right to participate and have their concerns be addressed by their public officials.”