Meet President Thames


Superintendent Brenda Thames in her office on Monday, Nov. 22, after becoming the first Black female president of El Camino College. She became president on July 1, 2021, after Dena Maloney retired. Photo by Elizabeth Basile/The Union

It is a cold evening, already dark at 5 p.m., and so still that the motion-activated lights in the administration building hallway are starting to turn off. However, El Camino College President Brenda Thames is still hard at work.

Thames is El Camino College (ECC)’s new president. She started working in this capacity in July 2021 and said that she works long hours every day.

“I can be working a 12-hour day depending on what that entails and that may entail a school board meeting in the evening,” Thames said.

While working days that tend to go into nights, Thames also said she has been adjusting well to her new surroundings with the help of the ECC community.

“The campus, my colleagues that I work with, everybody from facilities, maintenance, to our student services staff, our instructional faculty, our deans, our administration ⁠— everybody’s been overwhelmingly hospitable and welcoming, and willing to tell me what’s going on and where we’re at with things,” Thames said.

Thames has found something different to love about every place she has worked. Before coming to ECC, Thames was president of West Hills Community College Coalinga.

Having worked with Thames for around five months, individuals at ECC who had a chance to work with the president gave their point of view on what working with her is like.

Kenneth Brown, member of the ECC Board of Trustees, is able to appraise what it’s like to work with Thames as he is also part of California Community College Trustee boards and has worked with other CEOs and past ECC presidents.

“In my position of… Board of Trustees that’s… a great thing but I also work as the president of the California Community Colleges Trustee board and I get to interact with a lot of CEOs up and down the state and… so I have a really good comparison. And I’m really really happy and pleased that we have her. And, working with her has been you know, very nice,” Brown said.

On the other hand, Vice President of the Board of Trustees Trisha Murakawa also told the Union about working with President Thames, even though she said she has only gotten the opportunity a few times.

“I am so happy, so happy, that she is our superintendent,” Murakawa said.

In her new job and move to a new locale, Hawthorne. Thames said, “So on a personal note it is having the convenience, of so many places to eat, to shop, and where I lived previously Walmart was an hour drive.”

She said that one of these personal adjustments was how many things there are to do and how close they are to her.

“Lots of the things to do on the weekends like the farmer’s market or to go to the beach, or to go to the museum so it’s the opportunities to do so many different things,” Thames said.

Thames found it hard to decide on her favorite places and restaurants.

“No, I can’t say a favorite, because then the other places will feel like I don’t like it,” Thames said with a laugh.

Speaking of not being able to pick a favorite, Thames is also a sports fan with varied interest in teams.

“I like any kind of sport,” Thames said.

With a new job in the South Bay area and a new environment at ECC, Thames noted that there are differences in priorities as well cultural opportunities. She has a new school to work with, with needs unique to the institution.

For ECC, Thames said that she did not have any specific goals set when she started working as president.

“One of the things they teach you in leadership 101 is, never go to a place with your own idea of who they should be or what they should be, first seek to understand… then seek to be understood,” Thames said.

Thames said that instead of having a set of preconceived goals, she has a strategy for planning what actions are needed to be done for success.

“A large part of that is learning what El Camino is, and learning what El Camino’s goals are for itself.” Thames said. “And then, I see my role as an opportunity to come alongside and support those goals, but also to maybe then help the college look at some things that maybe they haven’t established as goals, or places that the data says we can do better.”

She said she plans to work with officials in the college to accomplish the goal of helping students.

“So my goal for El Camino is … that we award as many degrees as we can award, as many certificates as we can award, help as many students as we can help get whatever it is that they want from us,” Thames said.

Thames said that she plans to do this by “partnering with the college to figure that out.”

“[I want people to know that] I love community colleges, and I believe that we are the door to access and opportunity for the communities that we serve,” Thames said about serving ECC.

Thames considers her work as the new president to be a way to give back to the communities surrounding the college.

“I don’t think that we have ‘jobs’ ⁠— I think that this is a calling. And when we come into this work, it’s gotta be all about helping to improve the lives of people that live around us that this community college serves,” Thames said.

Editor’s note: photo moved for clarity on Sunday, Dec. 19 at 2:41 a.m.