Frank Chong started work Wednesday at Santa Rosa Junior College, succeeding Robert Agrella to become the fifth president in the college's 94-year history.

For Chong, the occasion marked a return to campus life after two years as deputy assistant secretary for community colleges in the Obama administration.

His position in Washington gave him opportunity to shape policy, but Chong, 54, said he was ready for a break from the Beltway grind.

"I just missed being on campus" he said. "The whole intellectual and cultural activity is inspiring. Ifeel like it keeps me young and sharp."

Previously the president of Laney College in Oakland and Mission College in Santa Clara, Chong had several suitors, he said, but SRJC got his full attention.

It has a stable board, a diverse community and a great location, he said.

His sister, Joyce Chong, recently retired as a program director at Sonoma State University. And his new home in Petaluma puts him less than an hour away from his daughters in San Francisco.

And not least, he said, SRJC has a sterling reputation.

"Isee my job is to make a great college better,"he said.

Still he arrives during uneasy financial times as years of state budget cuts have forced the school to reduce programs and personnel.

Chong said he is confident the school could "expand the pie," increasing its funding by pursuing more grants and other sources of revenue.

"The school has to become a little bit more entrepreneurial," he said.

It's been more than 20 years since SRJC welcomed a new president, and Chong's arrival brings a mix of nerves and excitement.

"We got the best guy," said math instructor Warren Ruud, who heads the faculty union and served on the school's presidential search committees.

"But there's a little bit of anxiety," he said. "You kind of get used to the way things are. A new leader is going to have some new ideas."

Chong stopped short of giving firm examples of immediate changes. He is still learning about the SRJCcommunity both on campus and in the surrounding area, he said.

But at a school where faculty, staff and management crow about getting along far better than at many colleges, Chong's past suggests he might fit in.

"He not only went out of his way to welcome people, he seemed to know everybody's name and ask how they were doing," said David Reed, an outreach specialist in the Office of Student Services at Laney College, where Chong was president for nearly four years.

Chong has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley in social welfare and Asian American Studies and a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D. in educational administration, leadership and technology from Dowling College in Oakdale, N.Y.