Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
Our institutional setting brought with it benefits and challenges for accomplishing our work as Agents of Change at the college-level and Natural Sciences Division level. We are a large, single-campus 2YC with over 250 degrees and certificates offered, state-of-the-art facilities, and several hundred faculty. These characteristics are incredibly helpful in terms of securing resources, not having to consider coordinating among several different campuses, and opportunities to compare our work with what folks in other divisions are doing (i.e., the perfect marriage between blazing a trail and not having to reinvent the wheel), among other benefits. On the minus side, historically, we have found that the coursework that we offer in Earth Sciences and Astronomy is outside of the scope of many of our institution's student support programs (for example, Basic Skills Education). In addition, we have noticed that our educational philosophy for STEM students who wish to transfer to a 4YC (i.e., students need to complete their supporting science and mathematics courses before transferring, which will require 3+ years at the 2YC) is often at odds with the institution's educational philosophy for transferring students (i.e., students should complete their General Education requirements and immediately transfer). As a result of these positives and drawbacks, it has been both intellectually rewarding and challenging to implement our work as Change Agents at the institutional level. The best mechanism that we identified for clearing the hurdles described above was focusing on a student support program that fit our project goals and was highly desirable by the administration: California's Strong Workforce Initiative. Focusing on a Career and Technical Education Certificate program provided us with an opportunity to design an educational pathway for STEM students that has tangible value to students, the geoscience workforce, and our administration. In our case, this was simply good timing as Strong Workforce Initiative funding was secured for our program around the same time that we began our work as Change Agents. The best advice that we can give with respect to aligning your work with your institution's desires is to meet with an administrator early in your work to identify college/district/state initiatives that could be a good fit for your work. If the institution is excited about what you are doing, there will be more support for your work!
Things that worked well that we would do again
We are incredibly excited about the progress we have made in creating our CTE (Career and Technical Education) Geotechnician Certificate Program for students seeking entry-level positions in the geotechnical/environmental/petroleum tech sectors, as well as the vision that we have in the future for working with pre-service 2YC geoscience faculty. After several years of brainstorming, conference attendance, and conversations with personnel from higher education and administration, the private sector, and the public sector, we were able to convene an advisory committee for the CTE program and officially submit our curriculum to the College and the Chancellor's Office for approval. Within a year (and surely after some modifications), we anticipate approval of the Geotechnician Certificate and initiation of our first cohort of students. We are also excited that submission of the certificate included the creation of four new courses for our department.
Our August 2018 regional workshop included graduate students and involved heightened participation from adjuncts at our institution as well from other schools in our area. This allowed us to formulate plans for future endeavors involving preparing future geoscience faculty. At our last workshop, we asked the STEM Dean from a local 2YC to share advice about achieving success in a 2YC environment; his participation was very well received by participants.
Our most successful department activity occurred at our second workshop. Thanks to receiving the go-ahead from the Natural Sciences Division, we were able to convince most of our full-time department members and a number of adjuncts to skip the college's pre-semester faculty development day and attend the workshop instead. This led to a great day of discussing issues important to both the full-timers and adjuncts, like how to encourage scientific writing projects in the STEM curriculum.
We are also excited that one of the adjuncts in our department, Sadie Kingsbury, was awarded NAGT's Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award in 2019. Sadie has really taken active learning and engagement to heart, incorporating it consistently into her classes. She also helped us facilitate our 2018 workshop. She was generously granted funding by SAGE 2YC to attend 2 faculty professional development workshops at the fall 2019 AGU meeting. Finally, she has recently teamed up with us to brainstorm how to produce a regional newsletter on advice for geoscience adjuncts. We hope that this will provide a model moving forward for our colleagues to develop sustainable collaborations with adjunct faculty in our department and engage our adjuncts more effectively.
One of the things that most helped our team to be successful was our ability to collaborate, plan workshops, and discuss ideas honestly over the three years of the project. In other words, it is very important to respect and trust the people you work with.
Supporting faculty change
Our team initially included a faculty member from another school in our area, but in year 3 of the project, that partner was joined by several faculty at her own college and formed a separate team. Over the 3 years of the project, we facilitated the following 1-day workshops and 1-hour webinars. The December 2016, May 2017, and August 2017 events occurred as a team of 3; subsequent events were implemented as a team of 2.
December 2016 (in-person workshop): Supporting Academic Success in the Geosciences at Two-Year Colleges in Southern California. In the first half of this workshop, we worked with adjunct and full-time faculty from about 10 different schools to consider what student success "looks like" and discuss both metacognition and effective learning strategies. During the second half of the workshop, counselors from most of the schools present joined us to work with faculty to develop educational plans/transfer pathways for geoscience students.
August 2017 (in-person workshop): Geoscience Retreat For Southern California 2YC Geology, Geography, and Environmental Science Faculty (note that this workshop followed and included participants in the NAGTs "Traveling Workshop Program" that was convened the previous day): Our Pasadena City College partner worked hard to organize the NAGT workshop part of the weekend, so the Mt. SAC team was responsible for the planning and logistics for the SAGE 2YC part of the workshop. We spent the first half of the SAGE 2YC workshop time discussing and practicing a variety of active learning strategies and the second half of the day sharing ideas about different assessment methods.
March 2018 (virtual event): The participants from the August 2017 SAGE workshop checked in on each other and heard about their respective attempts to implement active learning and assessment strategies from the workshop in their classroom. We also briefly brainstormed plans for the 2018 regional workshop.
August 2018 (in-person workshop): Strong Starts and Transitions: Supporting Present and Future Geoscience Educators at 2-Year Colleges in Southern California: For our 2018 workshop, the Mt. SAC team planned their own workshop and our Pasadena City College partner joined with colleagues at her institution to expand the opportunities for regional workshops. In addition to inviting geoscience faculty from local 2YCs, we extended the invitation to geoscience graduate students at local 4YCs. The number of participants, number of institutions represented, and quantitative end-of-workshop evaluation data indicate that this was our most successful workshop. In the morning, we convened a plenary session featuring a STEM faculty member from Mt. SAC and a STEM Dean from Pasadena City College and heard some great advice about how to be temporally successful (from the job search to retirement) as a 2YC faculty member. Attendees then had an opportunity to attend 2 of 3 breakout sessions on incorporating societally relevant teaching materials into the classroom; navigating the academic job search; and opportunities for professional development at 2YCs. After lunch, faculty attendees worked with others from their institution to discuss moving forward with department initiatives, while graduate students had their CVs and teaching statements reviewed and prepared and practiced a mock teaching demonstration.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
Bringing Change Agent Tools to the Table: With respect to the department-level dynamics, it is typical to have a spectrum of reactions to Change Agent-esque initiatives and ideas. This may range from colleagues being excited and wanting to participate in the initiatives, to colleagues being supportive but not participatory, to colleagues being ambivalent, to colleagues resisting the initiatives for a variety of reasons. We encountered the entire spectrum, and you may as well in your work. Some parts of the spectrum are easier to work with than others, but the best course of action for us seemed to be to promote our ideas positively, invite collaboration and input from fellow faculty, and make it clear that no other faculty are under any obligation to help with the project. There was little resistance to leading our workshops, and faculty participation in the workshops over the course of the project waxed and waned. Overall, we saw more participation within our own department from adjunct faculty than full-time faculty. Perhaps finding ways to include adjunct faculty is something to consider for your own project as you think about how to offer the best and most needed professional development for the faculty in your region. There was one workshop that most of our fellow faculty attended that led to some interesting classroom experiments by us the following years (i.e. science writing projects).
Securing Administrative Support for your Vision: We also encountered benefits and challenges at the Division level over the course of our work as Change Agents. The aspect that benefitted us the most at the Division level was strong support for several of our ideas (namely, the Geotechnician Certificate Program and running regional workshops on campus) from within the Natural Sciences Division. Considering our work over the lifetime of the project, we feel as though we were not as successful securing administrative buy-in during the middle years of the project because although the Divison was a strong supporter of the Geotechnician Certificate, we could have done a better job promoting other aspects of our work, including our regional workshops and the importance of administrator attendance at the annual SAGE 2YC workshops. (In fact, it was administrator attendance at an early annual SAGE 2YC workshop that got the ball rolling on creating the Geotech Certificate program.) It is fundamentally important to secure buy-in from administrators for resources, ideas and support. We were the most successful when we kept out administrators informed and tied our work in with various institutional priorities (SLOs, adjuncts, engagement, etc.)
Finding Outside Support for your Vision: Our biggest challenge was moving forward with our plan to create a CTE certificate for geotechnical jobs. The challenges were divided between logistical issues and departmental support. Although both of us had created and modified curriculum in the past, creating a certificate was a steep learning curve. The primary logistical challenge was finding and convening a collection of internal and external advisors to support the certificate, which was required in order for us to move forward with the certificate. What worked was to advertise our ideas at professional geoscience meetings and conventions, network with potential employers, and visit as many as possible to create personal connections. We created a survey instrument that helped us to identify the classes and skills that would most benefit certificate completers. This also helped us to connect to future employers and help us provide them with some ownership, which we hope will translate into involvement with the certificate and employment offers for certificate completers.
Teaming with your Department: We also faced challenges within our department as we moved through the curriculum development process for the certificate courses. Some colleagues were concerned that they would be called on to teach classes or skills they were unsure they could teach. We reassured them that although we welcomed their support and coveted their participation, they would not have any responsibility for making the program work, unless they wanted to participate.
Filling Follow-on Activities: We had a challenging time attracting enough virtual participants after the year one workshop. We did not experience that problem the following year, and are not sure why. It might be that we did a better job of engaging adjunct faculty in the second year, as they were a significant portion of the attendees. In general we found that adjunct instructors are often the "hungriest" for new ideas and opportunities to be involved.
Things to think about before you start this type of project:
- It is very important to have a collaborator whom you trust and can work with in a positive and egalitarian way. All collaborators will not necessarily have the same goals for the project, but it is useful if everyone can be creative to come up with an action plan that incorporates aspects of everyone's goals to ensure buy-in from everyone. We were happy and lucky to already have a positive, collaborative working relationship.
- It would have helped us to have had more in our toolbox going into the project for selling our ideas, especially within our department. If the "PR" aspect of completing a project like this seems like it will be a challenge for you, it might be a good idea to think about how you will sell your ideas at the department, division, and institutional level before the time comes to sell them!
- Recruitment for workshops can be quite challenging. We had the best success with this when we sent individual emails to faculty (rather than a gigantic email list) and followed up with phone calls. It was labor intensive but worth it as we saw our enrollments climb when we adopted this strategy!
- If you are convening workshops, you should think carefully and deeply about how to engage the participants in a sustainable way after the workshop is over. One mechanism for this longer-term engagement is to have a brief virtual meeting later in the academic year for folks to report on changes that they've made in their teaching/programs/etc. since the workshop. If this is something that interests you, it it important to think about a virtual meeting topic/format as you are designing the in-person workshop. That way, there is alignment between the workshop and the virtual follow-up activity.
Our major institutional change, the Geotech CTE program, is an addition to curriculum and, if approved, should persist. As a team, we also feel significant ownership and responsibility for this program and look forward to the role we will have in training future geotechnical professionals.
In regard to the Earth Sciences and Astronomy Department, the Geotechnician Certificate Program has involved the creation of four new courses. This is providing us the opportunity to include strategies for engagement, many learned over the last 3 years in the context of the SAGE 2YC Faculty Agents of Change program, directly into theses courses as we develop them.
Another mechanism for institutionalizing/formalizing our experience as Faculty Agents of Change is creating a lab manual for one of our most popular courses, Earth Science. Many of the active learning and assessment strategies with which we experimented over the course of the project will be infused into these lab exercises.