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New York Change Agent Team

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Sean Tvelia, Suffolk County Community College

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Purpose Statement

We are working to increase participation and success, particularly among students from under-represented populations and first generation college students. Our current work focuses on recruiting a diverse student population and working with all of our students to help them thrive. This includes building students' metacognitive skills. For example, we talk explicitly with our classes about the types of analysis and critical thinking required in our courses, and we are building reflection activities into our courses, so that students make the connections between their study habits and their learning. We are also working with our faculty colleagues to share these strategies for adapting our teaching to reach and encourage our students, who can be successful.

Progress to Date

To date our regional workshops and institutional activities have focused on broadening participation and increasing students success within geoscience courses. Through collaborative exercises between community college students and two- and four-year college faculty at regional workshops, faculty have identified potential academic weaknesses in transferring students and, with the guidance of participating students, have developed and adopted new pedagogies that help students better engage with course materials and ensure the competitiveness of transfer students.

At Suffolk County Community College, faculty have developed think-pair-share activities and group writing and drawing exercises that help students better assess and practice their understanding of course content. Metacognition lectures have also been adopted by faculty to provide students with greater understanding of their own learning process and to provide students with concrete strategies for meeting course objectives and assessing their own learning. Additionally, student tutors have been assigned to most geoscience laboratory sections to provide peer-to-peer assistance and instill a sense of community within the geoscience program. Introduction of student tutors in this manner has caused a dramatic increase in student usage of the science learning centers and greater success within classes. In order to increase participation within geoscience majors, faculty have also developed a geoscience newsletter to provide parents and students information about geoscience career opportunities and highlight available academic opportunities, academic resources, and leading transfer institutions.

At Nassau Community College, former team members developed exam wrappers to help students develop their learning and study skills. In order to encourage and inspire new majors, faculty also included units within specific topics that highlight specific scientists who work within the topic being studied. Additionally, faculty developed field trips to local institutions where students met with university faculty to learn about their research and the educational opportunities available to transfer students.

In our most recent workshops faculty from the regional two-year and four-year colleges reviewed the factors that influence student persistence in science programs. Using the factors identified in recently published studies faculty conducted a SWOT analysis of their programs to identify positive aspects that could be used in marketing material and highlighted in departmental bulletins and student spaces to make programs more attractive to potential majors. Through this analysis faculty also identified specific aspects of the program that can be improved to make the program more welcoming to incoming students and/or provide resources that will allow greater success for entering students in gate-keeper courses. During this workshop faculty also worked to better align course activities with specific course- and program-level outcomes while also ensuring that class assignments and assessments contained an appropriate balance of lower and higher order thinking activities.

As a result of this workshop faculty at Suffolk County Community College have begun including mini lectures on Blooms Taxonomy to better prepare entering students for the type of work that will be expected of them throughout their academic experience. Departmental displays and marketing have also been improved to highlight educational resources, extracurricular opportunities, career paths, and now include specific faculty contacts for students interested in pursuing specific degrees. Faculty have also begun to redesign building corridors to highlight student work and achievements and student spotlights have been created to show the path of successful alumni. In all cases faculty have been careful to include individuals representative of all student demographic categories.

In order to expose students to more potential career and transfer paths we have also increased extracurricular programing to include speakers from industry and local four-year institutions. Industry professionals provide presentations that highlight the work of geoscientists within the region and the specific skills required of students interested in entering the field. Our university partners have provided multiple presentations to majors that provide pre-enrollment advising that encourages students to continue in their course work and also provide opportunities for community college students to get involved with extracurricular activities at the local university. Lastly a series of extracurricular programs have been developed to provide career-specific skills training for community college students.

Work Going Forward

In the coming semester Suffolk County Community College will be refining educational resources within the geoscience program. Working with our tutoring center we will begin providing student led workshops during common hours that reflect the work taking place within courses. These workshops will allow students the ability to practice newly learned skills in a more formal setting while also continuing to provide individual one-on-one tutoring to those who need it. In addition we will be expanding our skills training program to include students from more areas of the college and additional programming by our industry and university partners.

Team Activities

Fall Workshops

2016 Workshop
November 4, 2016, Suffolk County Community College

2017 Workshop
November 3, 2017, Suffolk County Community College

2018 Workshop
October 26, 9:00am-4:00, Suffolk County Community College, Ammerman Campus

Spring Follow-on Activities

Spring 2017 Event
April 3, 2017, Suffolk County Community College

Team Members

Sean Tvelia

Sean is an Associate Professor of Geology. His primary teaching responsibility includes both introductory and upper level geology courses including a research-oriented field studies course and Planetary Geology. Aside from his primary responsibility in geology, Sean is actively involved in the Astronomy Department and is a founding board member of Montauk Observatory, a not-for-profit organization that provides free public science lectures on the east end of Long Island.


Sean teaches Physical Geology, Historical Geology, Geologic Field Studies, and Planetary Geology.

Tracy Imperato

Tracy is an Assistant Professor of Geology at Nassau Community College. Tracy's educational interests include anything related to the history of New York City, from the rocks to the infrastructure. She is also interested in storm action on coastlines and how coasts evolve through time particularly with human interference. Tracy is the Geology/Astronomy Outcomes Assessment Coordinator for the Department of Physical Sciences, and Program Coordinator for the Women's Faculty Association at NCC. She has also recently served as Nassau Community College's Academic Senate Grants Committee Chairperson.


Tracy teaches Physical Geology, Historical Geology, Field Laboratory Geology, and Beaches and Coasts.

JoAnn Thissen

JoAnn is an Honors Faculty and winner of the NY State Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. In both her face-to-face and online courses she uses active and inquiry based learning, involving students in hands-on activities, research projects, and field work.


While she was at Nassau Community College, JoAnn taught Physical Geology, Historical Geology, Ocean Science, Field Geology, and Beaches and Coasts, a non-lab coastal processes/coastal geomorphology course.


Suffolk County Community College

Institution: Suffolk County Community College (also known as SUNY Suffolk) is the largest community college in the State of New York, serving about 26,000 students from 3 campuses on Long Island. Eighteen percent of its students are Hispanic or Latino.

Geoscience program: Geosciences at Suffolk County Community College are mostly part of the Earth & Space Science program which is run through the Department of Physical Sciences. The program offers courses in Physical Geology, Historical Geology, Meteorology, Environmental Science, Global Climate Change, Planetary Geology; the Biology Department offers Oceanography. The geoscience program has three full-time faculty and four adjunct faculty.

A majority of SCCC students served by geoscience courses are liberal arts students satisfying a lab-science elective. Across three campuses, the program serves approximately 250 students a semester and has 15-20 majors each year. Majors and potential majors in Sean's classes are also given many opportunities to participate in field activities with local university and other geoscience agencies.

Institutional demographic data is from IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, U.S. Department of Education, typically for the 2014-15 year as available.

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