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Honors College alumna finds success in higher education

First-gen Spartanburg native is president of Contra Costa College

portrait of Kimberly Rogers

Kimberly Rogers recently completed her first year as a college president — an impressive achievement for anyone, especially a first-generation university graduate. She took the first steps on that path in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where she discovered a passion that would lead her far. 

“I started playing violin when I was just 10 years old,” Rogers says. “I loved it immediately.”

She continued to play and improve throughout grammar school. Eventually, her talent became her ticket to higher education.

“I always knew that I would have to either get a scholarship or pay for college myself,” Rogers says. “I was able to receive a music scholarship to USC. That was life-changing. My older brother and I were the first in our family to go to college.”

She earned a spot in the University of South Carolina’s symphony and chamber orchestras.

“I fondly remember all the amazing pieces we played and all the fun rehearsals,” she says. “We accompanied outstanding artists such as Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole and Crystal Gayle. I had such a memorable experience at USC.”

Her strong academics soon gained her acceptance into the prestigious South Carolina Honors College. 

“The Honors College offered smaller class sizes, excellent mentoring and personalized attention that impacted my education,” Rogers says. “It truly opened up so many opportunities for me.”

“I believe talent is equally distributed, but opportunities are not.”

Kimberly Rogers

Although she loved music and earned a scholarship for it, Rogers also had other interests. She had studied French since fourth grade as part of a language immersion program at her elementary school. Rather than pursue music for her undergraduate degree, she chose to major in French and minor in chemistry, briefly considering careers in medicine and international business before a study abroad trip changed her mind. 

“Studying in France opened my eyes,” says Rogers. “I experienced the difference between the French and American higher education systems. I saw how the French government supported its students in a different way. I decided I wanted to pursue a career in higher education.”

After graduating from USC, Rogers enrolled at Harvard University, where courses on higher education economics and policies sparked her interest in educational administration. She completed her masters in education from Harvard, then earned a Ph.D. in higher education from Pennsylvania State University. 

During her impressive career, she has served the State University of New York at Buffalo, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the Université de Haute-Alsace in France. 

“I enjoyed figuring out how to bring people together to reach consensus around important college matters,” Rogers says.

In January 2021, Contra Costa College, in San Pablo, California, hired Rogers as the vice president of instruction. In June 2022, she was named the college’s acting president. A year later, she became the institution's permanent president. 

The community college serves more than 7,000 diverse students. Like Rogers, many of them are first-generation students, working to better themselves and their families.  

“I believe talent is equally distributed, but opportunities are not,” Rogers says. “Some people receive opportunities early in life. Others do not. But, you never know who will be the next person to discover a cure for cancer, become a famous writer or compose a renowned piece of music. We should all work to provide opportunities for people so they can realize their full potential and make our communities better places. You can do that by serving as a role model or mentor to support a student.”

Rogers knows firsthand the powerful impact a mentor can have on a person’s life. 

“It was at USC that I had my first significant mentors. They were not always Black women, but they showed me the importance of having mentors from across races, experience and backgrounds,” Rogers says. “They believed in me and supported me.”

Now, she mentors students and shares some of the same advice she received years ago.

“I believe that if you work hard enough, good things will happen. But I always say, ‘You have to apply sometimes. You don’t always just get invited.’ That means you have to make extra effort, you have to try harder than others around you sometimes. Success is about persistence.”

She’s remained persistent in her path towards personal and professional success and encourages the next generation of students to do the same, while also reminding them that their starting point doesn’t define their finish line. 

“Never close off an avenue. Possibility abounds as long as you have an open mind and positive attitude.”