Campus institutionalizes the formation of academic communities

Through the Guided Pathways Program, a California-based project that aims to help community colleges increase college completion, the campus has implemented several institutional changes since its introduction in 2017. This semester, the program established academic-based communities, where students are grouped together according to their major.  

Guided Pathways Dean Alex Casareno said that Career and Academic Communities, which are also called “communities,” acts as a “house” where students can engage with faculty and peers in related fields, as well as get the support they need in order to be successful. 

“Our concept here is that the students will see themselves as part of these communities,” Casareno said.

While Casareno said it’s still too early to determine how students will truly react to the houses, he said the communities will help the campus intentionally address students’ needs and concerns.

“We’re just trying to see how we can best serve our students that’s going to give them the most relevant support and not just generalize them anymore so it’s more major-specific,” said Julie Olson, the success specialist for the Arts, Media and Entertainment Department as well as the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department.

Last spring, Casareno said they held a seminar with students and discussed the idea about themed-general education requirements, which will continue to be a focus for the program in the future.

While the implementation of the communities rolled out this semester, Olson said the role of success coaches on campus were implemented last year and was tested with the first-time new students at the time.

Olson said that student success all depends on an individual’s educational goal, which differs from person to person because not everyone on campus is always a traditional student. She said some students have family obligations, where they can be full-time parents or have full-time jobs to support their family.

“We have to be respectful for that and understand that not every student is going to fit into a 15-unit semester,” Olson said.

Casareno also said non-traditional students include formerly incarcerated students. He said putting them on a path that would provide a future they want to have so that the future does not include returning back to being incarcerated is another goal of the program.

“If you’ve been incarcerated, if you’ve been in prison, your life trajectory is taken a different route and will take a different route because you can’t be in just any profession because not all professions will allow someone to come in with a felony background,” Casareno said. 

Aside from improving outreach to new students, Casareno said they are also improving how they inreach to current students, who could have been in college longer than two years. He said they’re focusing on case-managing students who have 30 units or more, since ideally, within 30 more units, those students should be on a path to transferring or graduating.

Olson said the implementation of the communities is just the beginning.

“We’re not completely done rolling out Guided Pathways at all, but I think it’s going pretty well,” Olson said. “We just have to wait and see how the students respond to it, especially with our first-time new students.”

In addition to the houses, teaching-learning leads were also established this semester. Lisa Abraham, the professional development coordinator, said that TLLs are professors who are interested in talking about and altering the kinds of things they do in the classroom to help students be more successful.

“What we decided to do as an institution was to start focusing on the classroom experiences of students and the different kinds of teaching techniques and learning environments that help students become successful in their academic careers and then set them up for their professional careers,” Abraham said.

Abraham said that the more effective professors are in the classroom, the more effective the students are going to be in their jobs as students.

Ultimately, Casareno said that Pathways provides students with the option to do things and offers support and resources for students. 

“Having students control their own lives and giving them the opportunity to do that would be a goal of Guided Pathways,” Casareno said. “We’re going to guide you to a path you want to have.”