Eight Inspirational women at ARC

Counselors, professors, trainers and advisors have achieved their dream and are now helping the next generation


Celebrating women at American River College (starting from top left Jennae Lambdin, Carson Lowden, Diana Allie, second row, Lauren Chavez, Kathleen Collihan, last row, Sara Smith, Marianna Sala, Jian Alsarraj) (Photo courtesy of ARC website)

There are many inspiring women at American River College. Students just need to look next to them to find strong female role models at the college, all who help mold student’s minds and bodies. 

Lauren Chavez is not only an anthropology professor at ARC, she graduated from ARC in 2012. She is now going for her Ph.D. in anthropology. 

“I enjoy many things working with my students, but I most enjoy watching people connect the dots so to speak with anthropology and parts of their life outside of the classroom,” Chavez said in an email to the Current. “I also enjoy getting to learn from my students.”

Chavez’s experience has given her compassion for her students.

“As a student at ARC, I know what a struggle [it is] academically and socially,” Chavez said. “Life happens and there were professors and counselors that were there to help me through it so I knew that I wanted to be one of the people on campus, a safe space for my students.”

Kathleen Collihan, a political science professor with a Ph.D, has been at ARC for 22 years. She believes in the students she teaches. 

“I love working with students, they energize me! They are optimistic, full of energy, life, and curiosity,” Collihan said in an email to the Current. “It is an honor and a pleasure to work with those that will be leaders in the future. They give me hope that the future will be in good hands.”

Collihan says she believes in the work behind the political system. 

“Growing up, my family moved every two years for my father’s job, and this took us all over the world. Living abroad and in my places in the U.S. contributed to my curiosity about how governments work,” Collihan said. “International issues and affairs piqued my interest and drew me to international relations and comparative politics for my graduate work. My immigration process really opened my eyes to the differences between government processes but also to the commonalities that we all share as citizens of the planet earth.” 

Jennae Lambdin is a physical education professor who has worked at ARC for four years. 

Lambdin has an undergraduate degree in communicative disorders, a postgraduate degree in special education, and a teaching credential in kinesiology. She says these  degrees opened a lot of different career paths for her. 

Lambdin has been in the education system for 30 years. During this time it gave her the opportunity to decide her path. She decided to come to ARC to teach students and change lives.

“I knew I could make a difference in the lives of young people who found themselves here needing some extra guidance or simply an opportunity,” Lambdin said in an email to the Current. 

Lambdin wants female students to know how to find their passion in life and never give up.

“Know your why; purpose, passion, pursuit, persistence, patience, and resiliency,” Lambdin said. “Find the “thing” that stirs your soul.” 

Lambdin talks about passion and persistence to get you through school on those difficult days. She also has a motto she goes by when she has some difficult moments.

“Improvise and adjust,” Lambdin said. 

Jian Alsarraj is a counselor for Disability Services and Programs for Students. She is from Baghdad, Iraq, where she received a degree in biology, and came to the U.S in 2008.

When Alsarraj came to the U.S. and started at ARC, she said she liked the whole DSPS department.

“I got caught. I fell in love with this department and the students and just the way that they get help from here,” Alsarraj said.

Alsarraj has had her own challenges, such as financial aid when she was being processed and approved to come to the U.S. 

When Alsarraj first arrived, she was on a limited income with three children. She was able to apply to CalWorks. She also got a university grant.

Throughout all those challenges Alsarraj used support options that were available. 

“My program director helped me a lot,” Alsarraj said.

Alsarraj  says she believes nothing is impossible as long as you reach out for help whether it be your professors, staff or fellow students. 

Sara Smith, a professor of history, has been at ARC since fall of 2016. Prior to working at ARC she was a student at Santa Monica College and transferred to UC Berkeley, she then moved on to UC Santa Cruz where she received her Phd in history and feminist studies.

Smith now teaches courses on U.S. women’s history and introduction to LGBTQ+ studies. 

Smith is currently advocating for family workplace justice and working on a research project that examines the experiences of trans and queer students in community college.

“I’m helping to lead efforts by faculty to improve our family leave policies, an effort that’s part of a long and proud history of women’s activism,” Smith said in an email to the Current. “To make our society value caregiving labor more than it does — labor that is disproportionately done by women, and women of color in particular.”

Smith added that women’s history should be incorporated into history classes and not just talked about one month out of the whole year. 

Diana Allie, an athletic counselor and human career development instructor, has been at ARC for nine years. 

Prior to working at ARC, Allie attended UC Davis where she received a bachelor’s degree in Asian American studies, and Sacramento State, where she received her master’s in counselor education.

Allie is the counselor to student-athletes in 19 ARC sports and assists them with creating and accomplishing their academic, athletic, career and personal goals.

“I take a holistic approach to counseling our student-athletes when it comes to deciding their educational path,” Allie said in an email to the Current. “Whether that includes earning a degree or certificate, transferring to a four-year university, or pursuing a NCAA Division I, II, III or NAIA athletic scholarship.”

Allie says that some things she likes about ARC include the students, her colleagues and the diversity displayed on campus.

Marianna Sala is an instructional assistant in the horticulture department at ARC. She has been working for the department for 14 years, and prior to that she worked in outdoor retail and took botany classes at ARC. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she says the greenhouses have been neglected. Starting in 2021, Sala has dedicated her time to keep the horticulture department alive by maintaining the greenhouses. 

“This is a school program, our goal is to give back to the community,” Sala said. 

“We put our heart and soul into taking care of this plant material to prepare for our next plant sale, and we were a month away from our plant sale in the lockdown.” 

Carson Lowden is in her seventh season as the women’s volleyball coach at ARC. She is also a kinesiology professor and holds yoga classes on campus.

As a coach she strives to model human kindness and respect with her players.

“I was always told that the woman next to me is my competition,” Lowden said. “In coaching [I work] to empower young women to not see the women standing next to them as their competition, but rather as their collaborator. We’re all striving together and I’m trying to be my best self but not in spite or despite of you but still celebrate your success or be with you for your failures.”

Prior to becoming the head coach at ARC, Lowden was the assistant coach for women’s volleyball at UC Berkeley and CSU Chico where she worked under two male head coaches.

“The experience of working under men taught me in the long run to appreciate my more archetypally feminine characteristics and it took a while because when I was a younger coach I felt that I needed to fit a masculine role,” Lowden said.

Lowden shares the importance of expressing emotions with students.

“My softness and how it is expressed is not weakness, it can be a form of empathy, compassion and express how I care,” Lowden said, breaking down what those characteristics look like.