Two weeks ago, I attended the Research-Based Teaching and Counseling Practices at Community Colleges conference at Nassau Community College. It was an interesting meeting and discussion about specific strategies to improve students’ experiences upon entering college. Overall, I felt our work at LaGuardia is moving forward and in line with what has been researched on the field and in concert with strategies that have been proven as effective and with positive results. The keynote speaker Thomas Bailey was expected to come, but due to a personal reason, he wasn’t able to join the conference in the end. Nevertheless, the co-authors of the book Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success Shanna Smith Jaggars and Susan Bickerstaff led the discussion of multiple aspects in community colleges such as developmental education, evaluation, and advisement, to name a few.
But my take-aways are three specific ones: the importance of considering the experience outside the classroom, the critical role of an effective professional development for faculty and the role and benefits of mentoring programs in the context of building a stronger sense of community.
Learn Outside the Classroom
Learning doesn’t occur inside the classroom only within the context of a lecture. Even if this is an effective one. Co curricular learning, for example, is one key component of the First Year Seminar work we do at LaGuardia. But in the context of first year students, the presenters offered insights on how the institution can create an environment and a system that will enable the student to find the right information and learn about the major, for example. If a professor teaching a first year seminar course talks about the importance of finding the right career, this becomes absolutely ineffective if the institution doesn’t have a well-structured advisement process, for instance. It is imperative then that the institution fosters a culture that welcomes students from the very beginning and that facilitates the navigation of the college campus and culture effectively.
Educate Students and Faculty
Yes, educate faculty as well. Faculty have received extensive training in their respective fields already. But this doesn’t mean that they can work with first year students and offer them the resources they need to be successful. A carefully-designed professional development structure is critical to infusing pedagogical approaches that are fundamentally important to teaching students that are not only new to the subject, but to the college environment as well. As the presenters pointed out, professional development seminars must be explicitly related to pedagogies that can empower faculty to teach first-year students.
Let Students Mentor Students
In my culminating project for my Masters, I am doing a literature review on the effects and benefits of peer mentoring programs in a higher education settings. The results show this implementation contributes to students' engagement and retention and therefore success in college. This is in line with what we are now doing at LaGuardia with our Student Success Mentors, providing the platform for students to mentor and guide students who are new to college and unaware of the habits of mind required to succeed. Letting students mentor other students empowers the mentors and guides the mentees adjust to a new life with the right support.
The conference's discussion overall resonated with my work at LaGuardia and the importance of the multiple key players in the higher education spectrum. The institution as a whole must reinforce this integration in order to provide students with a college environment that's conducive to learning.
I am the Academic Resource Center Coordinator at the Center for Teaching and Learning at LaGuardia Community College working primarily in the First Year Seminar initiative. I am also a student in the MA program in educational psychology at Hunter College. I am particularly passionate with the use of technology in learning environments. Read more about me.