Making and Sustaining Change
Consideration of context
Pasadena City College is in the Los Angeles area and is fairly large for a community college. It serves over 32,000 students, 41% of whom are Hispanic or Latino and 21% of whom are Asian/Pacific Islander. Our goals of improving academic and transfer success for our diverse student body are at the top of our list. The geoscience program is also rather large with nine full-time geology and geography faculty and at least as many adjunct faculty. One of our project goals has been to establish more of a regularly interacting community among our program faculty. It is easy to run in and out of your classroom at a community college without interacting much with your fellow instructors, but it turns out to be so beneficial for our students and overall program to do so!
We have been very fortunate at Pasadena City College (PCC) that our Division Dean through 2018, David Douglass, was not only a geologist but also a member of the SAGE 2YC Advisory Board from 2013-2015. His support, enthusiasm, and confidence in the program certainly eased our work. Following Douglass's retirement one of our Change Agent team members, Martha House, is currently our Interim Dean and naturally in support of this program as well, so that transition has been ideal. Institutionally there is a strong push at PCC towards professional development (with a relatively new Director of Professional Development, Jason Robinson), closing the equity gap (with workshops and committees on the topic), and active learning (also with periodic workshops). Coincidentally, Robinson is also leading a Spring 2019 book club series of discussions on Whistling Vivaldi. We have shared with him some of the materials from SAGE 2YC on related subjects, and he has incorporated some of these materials into his book club. On the departmental level, we have formed a merged Environmental and Geoscience Department that includes nine faculty in geology, geography, and environmental science who meet on a regular basis to discuss student success and programmatic issues.
Things that worked well that we would do again
The annual June SAGE 2YC meetings were an invaluable part of this experience. We got to know other teams well and learned so much from the program and the leaders. Creating our annual posters for these meetings was a great way to get us to summarize and think about what we needed to do next. Bringing the administrators to the first June meeting was also an excellent idea and opportunity to have their "ear" for some dedicated discussion.
The SAGE 2YC project-led virtual activities were very helpful. We got to know our fellow SAGE 2YC Change Agents better through the discussions, and it forced us to dig into educational literature. It was a good idea to have tasks associated with each webinar meeting, to keep everyone engaged, and it was also useful to have follow-up prompts to have participants reflect after the webinars and summarize planned changes resulting from the discussions.
The mountain retreat (in Big Bear, California) worked very well in that it allowed us to meet in a new place, and we were able to combine fun activities with plenty of time for serious reflection on improving education.
The quality of the articles and choice of topics really helped the program as well. Some faculty are hesitant to try out new methodologies unless they know the literature in support of them. The SAGE 2YC leaders did an excellent job of highlighting approaches that can work (e.g. scientist spotlights, values affirmations, etc.) and they found convincing peer-reviewed articles wherein these methods were shown to be effective.
Supporting faculty change
During the course of the project we held three workshops and one follow-up virtual meeting with faculty from our school and nearby 2YC colleges. The workshop topics were designed to be relevant and of interest to 2YC geoscience faculty. The workshops were also an opportunity to meet other 2YC geoscience faculty in the area, and we think that was appealing to attendees. The follow-up virtual meetings that were scheduled 6 months after each workshop were designed to encourage continued interaction and discussion.
I (Michael) can personally say that it was the December 2016 regional workshop that first introduced me to the metacognition techniques that I now use regularly in my classes. I really felt my thinking about teaching improved dramatically during this and the following (2017) workshop. My positive experiences and satisfaction with the results of these two workshops made it easy to join the SAGE 2YC Southern California-3 team when Elizabeth invited me.
Strategies for overcoming challenges
1. Recruitment for workshops. Recruitment was challenging for a number of reasons. First, we were breaking new ground. There were no former models of local 2YC workshops in our area for geoscience faculty, so some of the people we invited might not have seen the value of attending. One possible solution to this is to have a representative from each college involved in the organization of the workshops. This would make it more likely that several of faculty from their campus would attend. Second, most of our initial invitations were via email. Given the nature of email, our invitations may have not been seriously considered since they were coming from an unknown individual. We did try to follow up with phone calls. Third was simply finding a meeting time that works with attendees. We tried both Fridays and Saturdays with mixed results.
2. Follow-up virtual meetings. Participation in our virtual meetings was low. This may have been due to timing (given the heavy teaching schedules of 2YC faculty) or the impression that this was not going to be a good use of an hour.
Things to think about before you start this type of project
Our cohort began with Change Agents from two southern California community college campuses separated by 25 miles (Los Angeles highway miles) that were not extensions or satellite campuses of each other. This worked well for the regional workshops as we were able to reach more people to attend, and we approached the workshops with a nice variety of ideas that would fit each of our departmental experiences. At the Department level we did not have similar goals, and I think that this is why we eventually split into two teams, each one represented exclusively by members of PCC or Mt. SAC. In a way this is not surprising, as no two college campuses or geoscience departments are the same. Our Mt. SAC partners have been working on creating geoscience certification programs, whereas we have been working at bringing together geology, geography, and environmental science faculty to form a broader Environmental and Geoscience Department on our campus.
It is extremely important to have the support of your Dean. This made it so much easier for all aspects of our project. He even found funds related to an on-campus STEM grant to help defray costs of one of our workshops.
Involving our administrators in various aspects of the SAGE 2YC project, especially their attendance at our June 2016 meeting, was a great way to familiarize them with the project and give them the opportunity to ask questions, get clarifications, and make suggestions. Their perspectives about what is important for campus-wide student success, and their encouragement that what we are doing is important, were very motivating.
As a department we have evolved into a tighter-knit program with more collaboration and interaction among faculty than ever before.