New York Change Agent Team

Sean Tvelia
Suffolk County Community College

Initial Publication Date: September 20, 2016


I am working to increase participation and success, particularly among students from under-represented populations and first generation college students. My work currently focuses on providing the educational and social resources students need to thrive in science programs. Through in-class and extracurricular activities I am working to build students' metacognitive skills and help build social networks to encourage persistence in science programs. I am also working with colleagues to share strategies for adapting our teaching to reach and inspire more students to pursue geoscience careers.


Prior to beginning my work on this project, Suffolk County Community College already had a strong science program. As a former student of the program, I was well aware of the level of preparation the program provided students and, as a faculty member here, I am well aware of the individual successes of our students and faculty.

However, over the years the student population and discipline evolved and it seemed, at least to me, that our courses and program had not. Although we could always point to that one student, the one who excelled in all their courses and was known by all faculty, that student was getting harder and harder to find and more students were struggling in our entry-level courses.

If we wanted a successful program, then we need to create the community to make it successful. A community where faculty would have the time, space, and opportunity to assess and improve their courses; where potential majors could readily learn about educational and career paths; and all students would have access to the resources necessary for their individual success. I wanted to transform our program from a lecture-based learning environment of discreet coursework to an active program where students are not only engaged in their classes but are also provided extracurricular learning and social activities where they can develop their knowledge, their identity, and their confidence as scientists.

Aligning with Institutional Priorities

Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) is a large community college with three campuses that span a range of socioeconomic and cultural regions of eastern Long Island. According to the college mission, SCCC promotes intellectual discovery, physical development, social and ethical awareness, and economic opportunities for all through an education that transforms lives, builds communities, and improves society. In recent years we, as a college community, have worked to create an institution that is inclusive of all, creating classes that not only support equality but also equity—with the understanding that not all of our students come from the same backgrounds or were afforded the same educational opportunities.

In a broader effort to grow the geoscience program and work within the college mission to promote social and ethical awareness, build communities, and improve society, faculty have worked to create a greater emphasis on how natural phenomena and contemporary issues covered in intro-level courses impact local communities. This focus on local issues allows students to gain a better understanding of the cultural and socioeconomic diversity of Long Island and the potential disparate impacts of policy decisions on certain segments of society.

At the central campus, where most of the geoscience courses are offered, students from most regions of the island are often represented in classes. The incorporation of active learning group activities allows students to share their specific knowledge of their own local community and provides students from other communities perspectives they may not have considered based on their own personal experiences. These activities not only help to provide greater understanding of course content but also demonstrate the importance of diversity in policy decisions.

In the geosciences, where so much of our traditional lectures were predicated on students' understanding of and experience with the natural world, the ability to provide an equitable learning space was critical to increasing student success within our courses. Through the addition of active learning methodologies, students with less experience are provided the opportunity to observe first-hand how materials and processes behave. In small groups, the students use their collective knowledge and experiences within the world to first explain or describe processes or environments prior to learning about the discreet aspects of the topic. Working in small groups, students are able to share and demonstrate the importance of individual experiences and knowledge to improving our overall understanding of the world. These activities not only help less experienced students better understand the topic but also help develop students' social and ethical awareness by exploring how different segments of society may be influenced by geologic processes or policy.

In order to increase individual performance, many courses have also begun to introduce students to metacognitive practices. Through these activities students learn how to learn and study more efficiently in all courses and better evaluate their own knowledge of course material prior to taking high-stakes exams. Since all students are required to successfully complete two lab sciences, increasing success within intro-level science courses is not only critical to the geoscience program but also to increase general college completion rates.

This project description is part of a collection documenting work by teams of two-year college faculty to implement high-impact, evidence-based instructional and co-curricular practices at their own institutions in pursuit of improved STEM learning, broadened participation, and a more robust STEM workforce.

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