Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
Mt. San Antonio College is a very large, single-campus community college set in central Los Angeles basin. The college draws from 16 large high schools, and is classified as a Hispanic Serving Institution. Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college, a situation that often means they don't have ideas about the variety of jobs available to graduates.
We began this project at a time when one of us was newly hired, with a mandate to grow the Oceanography program. 2YCs are thought to be at the cutting edge, training or retraining students today for jobs that do not yet exist. We had global climate change in mind when we began this project; since southern California will be drastically affected by sea level changes, we sought to create a new course (Coastal Oceanography) that will give our students a pathway into the workforce of ocean scientists.
The excitement of such an opportunity was diminished slightly by the concurrent institutional decline in enrollment, and by changes to the state's funding structure that meant that "stand-alone" courses were no longer permitted – that is, new courses needed to be transferable, or part of a degree or certificate program.
Things that worked well that we would do again
Our goal to offer a second oceanography course is on the verge of being reached, thanks to the skills and advice we received along the way from colleagues on and off campus, and guidance from the SAGE 2YC project team and leaders. Our final task is to get the course approved as transferable or as part of a degree.
A SAGE 2YC-sponsored workshop we organized, PathWaves to Success, allowed for incredibly valuable conversations between 2YC and 4YCU ocean science faculty, where both sides learned about the complex processes for getting new courses and programs approved. By attending conferences and workshops for which funding was generously offered through SAGE 2YC and others, we also learned so much about getting teams together and how to approach administrators to get and keep the ball rolling. We recommend to always be on the lookout for these kinds of opportunities.
A new state funding formula for higher education was recently passed in our state. Based on this formula, colleges receive more funding for students who complete a degree or certificate. We are therefore inspired to look into the option of creating an ocean sciences certificate for our students, and tying it in with the Guided Pathways Initiative. This recent change at the state level shows how important it is to keep current with what is going on politically in your state regarding higher education.
Growing a department's focus area (in our case oceanography) takes time. Change does not stand or fall with the introduction of one new course. Even though our new course still needs to pass its final hurdle, we have made great progress in so many other ways to grow oceanography on our campus. To to name a few, we have initiated an oceanography lecture series, maintain an oceanography bulletin board with current news and information (transfer, study abroad, summer research etc.), hold oceanography faculty meetings with a focused effort to include our part-time faculty, have developed hands-on activities for our ocean lecture courses and put boxes together that include the instructional material for easy access for all faculty. Joint field trips, formation of a club, and informal gatherings with faculty and students from other institutions are our next steps in this effort.
Supporting faculty change
The work we did as Agents of Change led us to consider many of the active learning strategies as we sought to design the course. We also benefited from the workshops that trained us in how to generate first a core of interested and enthusiastic supporters, and then to spread this enthusiasm to other colleagues, administrators, and campuses. At this point we have extended our original ocean faculty group to include all Earth Sciences part-time and interested full-time faculty. Building an exceptional community of faculty that is team-spirited, developing and using high quality active learning strategies in the classroom, and maintaining consistency across the board can be fun, valuable for a department, and can make onboarding processes easier for all.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
We are working to get our course to be accepted as transferable, or as part of the requirements for a degree. There is a degree on our campus that we think would benefit tremendously from the addition of this course (Environmental Studies AA degree), and we are pursuing this option.
We held a SAGE 2YC-sponsored workshop in January 2019, to which we invited educators who were interested in expanding Ocean Sciences and who came from 2YC and 4YCUs across southern California. The excitement exhibited at this workshop, in which both sides learned about the challenges that were faced in terms of adding new courses, programs, and transfer agreements, was in fact palpable. Participants asked for another, follow-up workshop so that they could continue the discussions about this idea of creating a workforce of students educated in coastal Oceanography.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
We wish we had known from the start who all the key players on our campus are to give advice on the approval process of a new course. Our articulation officer shared with us that our course was not on the list of transferable courses, because the one similar course that was offered at another college was part of a unique certificate that was not transferable. Reaching out to others, for example our Curriculum and Instruction team, early on in the process is important.
We wish we had known about the challenges faced by 4YC/U faculty and administrators who want to change focus or create new programs at their colleges. We learned about these challenges at our workshop.
We also did not anticipate how much time it might take to create a list of faculty to include in our community, how much lead time they would appreciate regarding attending a workshop, or how it would be impossible to find a similar, lower-division course at any other college, that would enable our college to offer Coastal Oceanography as a transferable course.
Once our new Coastal Oceanography course is approved, we expect it to be offered at least once per year. Students who are interested in an Ocean Science career path will be better situated to transfer to a 4YC/U Ocean Sciences program.