Broadening Participation Through Partnerships Between Two-Year and Four-Year Programs

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Establishing partnerships between two-year and four-year institutions is an art form. In this installment of the Meeting of the Minds series, hosted by the NCWIT Academic Alliance, our expert panel shares best practices to implement as well as key pitfalls to avoid when aligning curriculum to support student success. We discuss how these partnerships form and how they can help remove existing barriers through the shared lens of empowering women-identifying and underrepresented students in computing.

Panelists:

  • Matthew Henry, Assistant Professor and Program Director of IT-Service and Support, Wake Technical Community College, NC
  • Melanie Williamson, Professor and Academic Dean, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, KY
  • Thu D. Nguyen, Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Professor of  Computer Science, Rutgers, NJ

Transcript

Ruby: 

Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us for the latest installment of the Meeting of the Minds, a discussion-based event series hosted by the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Academic Alliance. 

Today’s topic is broadening participation through two-year and four-year partnerships. I’m Ruby ElKarboutly from Quinnipiac University. I’m an Associate Professor of Software Engineering and the liaison from my university for NCWIT.

For accessibility purposes I’m going to briefly describe myself. So I’m fair skinned, I wear a light blue head cover and a light blue shirt. I’m going to pass it to Kayla, my fellow moderator, to present herself, to introduce herself.

Kayla: 

Sure. Hi everyone, my name is Kayla Gross, and I’m the Inclusion Program Manager for the University of Wisconsin Department of Computer Sciences.

I am fair-skinned with long blond wavy hair and glasses, and I am wearing a green jacket today with a white shirt.

I’m very honored to be serving as a co-moderator today, and I am very excited to hear from our presenters.

I’m also going to turn it over to Matt from NCWIT for a few housekeeping items before we get started.

Matt:

Thanks Kayla, I’m Matt, the membership coordinator for NCWIT’s Academic Alliance.

I use he/him pronouns and I’m fair skinned, blond haired and wearing glasses today, and I have a bright, colorful shirt on.

We’ve got a great program scheduled. We’re going to hear from our speakers the first half, and then we’re going to move into a group discussion. And really, these events are all about discussion, and we’re excited to have you all. I’m going to kick it back to Ruby to help introduce the Meeting of the Minds series, and we’ll continue on our program. Thanks.

Ruby:

Right, so NCWIT is the only – so I’m going to talk a little bit about NCWIT and give you some background. NCWIT is the only national nonprofit organization working to broaden women’s meaningful participation and computing across the entire ecosystem, helping over 1,500 organizations recruit, and retain, and advance women from K-12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers, by providing support, evidence, and action. For more information, you can visit ncwit.org. NCWIT membership is actually at no cost, it’s totally free. It’s given to accredited and nonprofit colleges and universities. The membership at NCWIT is at the institutional level, and members are categorized into one of four alliances: Academic, Workforce, K-12, and Affinity alliances.

The Academic Alliance has over 660 post-secondary institutions, and 100 plus of which are two-year institutions who are working to be inclusive in institutional cultures and building the structures of equity to increase the meaningful participation of women and other underrepresented groups in computing.

The Meeting of the Minds discussion series was created last year as a way to share the collective life experiences, best practices, and the challenges faced in this community as we collectively work to further gender equity in computing degree programs. 

So today’s agenda, we will hear from our panel of guest speakers for the first half hour, and in the second half hour we’re going to be doing group discussion and questions and answers. A little bit of housekeeping, as this is a discussion-based event, we invite you all to keep your cameras on, please, but the mic on mute unless you’re speaking. Place your questions in the chat throughout the session, and if we don’t get to them during the initial portion, we will try to address all of the questions during the Q and A. So ask them early and ask them often. We are recording this session today, and the recording will be live on our website at http://ncwit.org/program/meetingsofthemind. This link will be put actually in the chat. So back to back to Kayla to introduce the topic.

Kayla:

Great. Thank you, Ruby. Today we’re going to be talking about building pathways between two- and four-year colleges. Building two-year and four-year pathways that increase equity and broad participation rather than create new barriers and hurdles for students is indeed challenging, but the importance of these collaborative partnerships cannot be overstated, especially in furthering equitable representation in computing. 

I’d like to share some data to help set the stage for our discussion today. This is provided by the Community College Research Center, or the CCRC. Community colleges enroll nearly half of the nation’s undergraduate students. Despite 80% indicating they plan to transfer on to get a bachelor’s degree, less than 20% of students end up with a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting at a community college. That is from a study collecting data between the years of 2011 and 2017. Compared to four-year institutions, community colleges enroll proportionately more students from underrepresented demographic groups, including racial or ethnic minorities and students who are low-income, first-generation, or nontraditional college-age students.

Socioeconomic factors can also determine graduation rates. Colleges with fewer Pell Grant recipients and higher percentages of white and Asian students are also associated with higher baccalaureate completion rates compared to transfer students. And in the Transfer Playbook published by the CRCC in 2016, it was recommended that there are three steps for building inclusive pathways.

One is for prioritizing transfer students, especially by the four-year institutions in the partnership. Two is creating clear programmatic pathways with aligned high quality instruction, and three, providing tailored student advising and mentorship-specific support for transfer students. There are many important factors to explore in today’s panels of speakers, and we’ll dive into the topic by sharing insights, strategies, and best practices from their own unique experiences. It is an honor to be introducing our speakers on this topic.

Today we have three distinguished speakers who will be sharing their lived experience creating meaningful pathways for students.

First we have Matthew Henry. He is the assistant professor and program director of IT service and support at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Matt is currently the Director for IT Service and Support Program in the Computer Technologies Division at Wake Technical Community College. He’s also currently a member of the NCWIT Academic Alliance programming team and is passionate about increasing engagement for two-year institutions within NCWIT.

We are also joined by Dr. Melanie Williamson, the Assistant Dean for the Business Computer and Information Systems Division, and a professor of computer and information technologies, at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Kentucky. Melanie has worked extensively with four-year institutions to develop and improve 2+2 articulation agreements to increase transfer rates for CIC students and has been involved in several efforts to increase the number of women in computing, including serving as the current co-chair of NCWIT’s Academic Alliance. 

And Dr. Thu Nguyen is the Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, a professor of computer science at Rutgers University. As Dean, Thu assists with the hiring, development, and promotion of faculty members and serves as the supervisor of undergraduate and graduate instruction. He is the co-collaborator in creating a living and learning community initiative for women in computer science at Rutgers, which prioritizes mentorship and co-curricular activities for women interested in computing with strategic partnerships. 

And it’s fantastic to have the three of you here today. I’ll just ask each of you to briefly describe yourself for accessibility purposes as you begin speaking. 

To begin, in addition to briefly describing yourself, why don’t we start by each of you briefly sharing with us a bit more of your experience with computing pathways and building inclusive partnerships between two- and four-year institutions. Melanie, would you be willing to go first?

Melanie:

Absolutely, thank you. Melanie Williamson, I’m going to say brown-gray hair, it’s up in a bun, and I’m wearing a gray sweater with a blue shirt underneath it.

Her and she are my pronouns, and my experience with partnerships include we have a current 2 + 2, and it is a true 2 + 2, because we offer it the first two years in our university. UK offers a second two years only of a computer engineering technology and integrated engineering technology degrees. And I was part of forming that. 

In addition, I have a great relationship with our Northern Kentucky University, through our efforts in computing, women in computing and recruiting that. So we, along the way, we had a relationship where we would have the one year a two-year celebration, and the second year, or the next year we would have the four-year celebration, so they would partner together. Through that, we created a lot of relationships with curriculum. 

Kayla:

Wonderful. Thank you so much for being here, Matt, would you like to go next?

Matt:

Absolutely. My name is Matt Henry, he/him/his pronouns. Caucasian male, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, beard that hasn’t seen clippers in about six months, and pink shirt with white pinstripes, glasses.

For me, my big challenge, I kind of link to the bigger discussion. It has been a lot of barriers from four-years. I’ve reached out to multiple four-years as a two-year vocational institution. I think that is important. The fact that I am approaching them from a vocational degree perspective, not a transfer degree perspective, puts up a lot of pushback and puts up a lot of barriers. We do have an articulation relationship with Eastern Carolina University.

But you know, even that took a lot of communication and negotiation between the two to see what our students were taking, what would go in, what couldn’t go in, and what I could make go in for those, so the students could transfer as seamlessly as possible, with as little loss as possible. We got ‘em in.

Kayla:

Wonderful! Thank you for being here. Thu?

Thu:

Thank you, Kayla.

Hi, everyone. First, let me apologize up-front. My network actually doesn’t seem great today, and so the video is pretty jerky. I may turn off the video in a little bit just to save people from having to watch my head jerk around. So, thank you. I’m hoping to learn as much from everybody here as to share what we’ve done.

Let me start by noting that a couple of my colleagues are here. Sangya Varma, who is Associate Dean in my division, and who has been involved in a lot of our effort in trying to build bridges to our two-years here. And also the Vice Dean of Undergraduate Education at Rutgers, in the School of Arts and Sciences, who works in close partnership with me, Susan Lawrence. And so, she and her staff actually deal with transfer students and partnerships schoolwide. So, it’s great to have the two of them here, bringing perspective in addition to what I’m going to do. 

And I want to say that about actually 15, 16 years ago, when I started, early in my stay at Rutgers, I had some friends who were faculty members at the two-year colleges, and we’d talk to each other and say how hard it is to keep the four-years and two-years in synchronization. And there’s always been intention to build partnerships, and working together, except that it’s 15 or 18 years later, until I stepped into more of an administrative role, that there’s been time to investigate this. And New Jersey is lucky enough to have a statewide system where there is a database of classes that would transfer to places like Rutgers from two-year colleges, which in some ways works really well, for disciplines that are well established, but sometimes they don’t work quite as well for disciplines that are under fast evolution, such as computer science is undergoing right now, and different things like data science. Because you have to get entries into the system, and then you have to monitor it, because classes are changing so much, and things that stay static doesn’t work so well.

And so, Sangya has been working in my office to figure out the lay of the land, and how the transfer credits are built up over all these years, and we’re finding the holes in various places, and so we’re trying to build partnerships to make a smoother pathway. We are finding that despite the statewide system, which like I said worked quite well in many situations, present some challenges, especially for computer science.

And just to add to what Kayla said earlier, we’ve done some deep-dive studies, and about 25% of our graduates are transfer students. But it turns out that a significant faction has to take our CS1, when they first transfer into Rutgers. And our retention rate for women students who transfer in and have to take CS1 is way below the already poor retention rate of first-year women students – it’s about 40%.

And then the gender gap continues to exist throughout all of our classes for transfer students, being larger than that for our students internally. 

So it’s really important, I think, we’re working on partnerships agreeing on pathways and addressing this gender gap. Thank you.

Kayla:

Great, thank you, Thu.

So you’ve all touched on benefits in various capacities to these two-year to four-year partnerships.

But are there any others you want to speak to specifically? So, what are the benefits of these two-year and for your partnerships, particularly for other institutions that they’re looking to create them on their own.

Melanie:

So, benefits to the students, of course, would be cost, class of size, for the classes.

But I think if you develop the two-year and four-year partnerships it really increases, I think we mentioned, the diversity, because community colleges tend to be more diverse from the beginning, and then it can continue to build or to transfer over.

And we’re seeing some of that, like I said. I mentioned that we have a two-year engineering technology program that dovetails exactly with no extra classes into one at the University of Kentucky, and that was something that was built together collaboratively from the ground up, so that it would have the benefits of pulling everybody straight through. There were cohorts that would go, and we can develop that as they go.

But I would also say some of the benefits, and I see Kira on here, so I’m going to be remiss if I didn’t mention the ACM CCECC, and that they develop curriculum. ACM does for the four-year, CCECC develops the curriculum guidelines for the two-year programs that dovetail really nicely into it.

So if you’re looking for ways of matching those up, there are a lot of colleges that follow those, and you can really look to those to guide you in the right areas. Data science is one; I believe that that might be something that they’re looking at, and Kira could certainly tell us later on if she wanted to. But I know computer science is one, I know IT is one. And so these are ways that they can really look at it and have these partnerships built on the fact that the guidelines have been followed, and they have the confidence that they’re there 

Kayla:

Great. Matt, Thu, is there anything you’d like to add?

Matt:

I would, actually. Again, being in a very unique position, so far I’m hearing a lot of academic two-years, fields that are groomed for four-year transition, me coming in as more of a vocational. For me, my biggest benefit is inspiration and aspiration.

I have students who come to me knowing that if they can get through this degree they can get to ECU.

If they can get the two-year degree their chances of transferring to let’s say, one of the other four-years of their choice is increased, and that’s a huge motivator when you’re trying to deal with students who have constantly pushed and pushed and pushed just to get through high school, pushed and pushed and pushed just to get into community college, being able to use that as a motivator, that’s huge. And what I’ve heard from my folks over at ECU is that our students stand equal or above their native four-year students, because mine have had to fight their way up. They had to earn their way in practically, whereas I speak as somebody who started as a four-year, as a native.

I saw a lot of people at Florida State back in ‘90 who were just kind of entitled, like they knew they were going to get in, and they knew they’re going to get through.

But the transfers are always hungry, and I think that that is the greatest strength that you can leverage with transfer students.

They had to fight their way through the system, they had to earn their way into that four-year.

Kayla:

Great. Thank you. For the sake of time, I will move on to the next question.

At the ground level, how do these partnerships typically form in your experience, or what techniques have you employed to ensure connectivity between these institutions?

Thu, would you maybe like to go first? I know you touched on this a bit earlier?

Thu:

Actually, in our experience in reaching out to the New Jersey community colleges, it’s been a bit of a mixed experience. I think that our colleagues are very interested in partnerships, but I also think that they have a different set of priorities, necessarily, than Rutgers does. And in particular, 

there is certainly interest in supporting students transferring into a four-year place like Rutgers, but there’s also a lot of interest in ensuring that the students graduate with a degree, and being able to find jobs, because that is important to many of the students, and the goals of those various trends don’t always align, especially in a discipline like computer science, where it’s actually really hard to hire faculty members, and you don’t always have the resources necessary.

And in fact, in New Jersey there are also some laws that make it sometimes a little bit harder to partner. For example, Rutgers, by law, I believe is not allowed to teach a lower-level course at a community college. 

So there’s a whole bunch of what-about things, and that makes it a little bit challenging to figure out how to build these relationships. And I think we’re now running into this, where everyone has good intentions, and we realize that the work is really important, but there are barriers to get around, and we’re working on it.

And just to add a little bit to what the two other speakers said earlier. I think it’s really important because I emphasize what Melanie and Matt say, 100%, but beyond that it doesn’t really matter so much. The community college opens up the pathway to a much larger body of students, and there deserve to be pathways for all of those students, regardless of whether it’s more diverse or not. There’s subtle pathways that are really important, and so I would love to see these things being built.

But there are challenges, I think. 

Melanie:

Well, and if I can add to to what you have said, the one of the unique things I think in the State of Kentucky is that our college, our community colleges, can teach any 100-200 level college classes from four-year institutions, and what that does for us is, say in KU, if they had the informatics courses that they have, we can teach those, and it creates a much clearer – we use the same syllabus, with the same specifications, everything – and that really, I think it helps initially to build kind of that understanding that what our students are learning is the same. But then it helps to create those future relationships when you know that we’re also teaching beyond that.

And so it develops as that communication between the four-year faculty and the two-year faculty, so that they are creating partnerships and not just guiding each other.

Kayla:

Matt? 

Matt:

Yes?

Kayla:

I feel like you have thoughts on this question; I’d love to hear them.

Matt:

I think the biggest challenge that I run into, I have to be realizing my position in everything else. I feel like I’m about to go tap dancing into a minefield. So I’m kind of thinking about what I say before I say it. 

Being in the program that I run, I consistently run into stereotypes from higher four-year and above, with regards to what the community college is, to the point where even this morning kind of mentally preparing for this, I went back to the old sitcom Community, and season one episode one, where they’re setting this world. You have a dean give the speech, and he says, “What is the community college? You’ve heard all kinds of things that you’ve heard this is a loser college for remedial teams, twenty-something dropouts, middle-aged divorcees, and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity.” And then in the very next moment he realizes that he’s lost one of his prompt cards, and I think I’m not gonna – again, I’m gonna be really careful – I have reached out to certain universities, and I have basically gotten a cold shoulder and pushback.

There’s this belief with certain institutions that they are just too good to work with a community college because of that stereotype, and for me that’s my biggest stumbling block, especially coming as a vocational degree program. And that was why earlier I talked about data science; it’s a clean transfer into a four-year. Computer programming, it’s a clean transfer, but for me, I teach students to provide concierge-level tech support. You know, hands and knees, throw routers, throw switches, put down RJ-45 cables. And that doesn’t always have a perceived place in the four-year or above system, and one of the things that I really try to work with, for the ones who will talk to me, is here’s the student I can bring. Let’s find a place for them. What can I do to prepare them to get to you?

But you know I get, a lot of it is, well, he’s not pure computer science. He’s not programming, he’s not data science, this blue collar IT is what I teach. Higher education is anything but blue collar.

You know myself, the kid from Flint, Michigan, I’ve been the weird unicorn for 30 years now, because I’m the shop rat kid, who somehow got into higher education.

I was never groomed for this, and that’s really that kind of pushback that I see from four-years. I’ve gotten students into ECU, and like I said, what I’ve heard is my students perform as well, or better, than the natives. It’s just a matter of getting attention so the people who hold the strings that I need to pull in those warriors will see that, and work with me, and that’s really been my big challenge for everything.

Kayla:

Thank you for sharing that it’s a really important and powerful perspective to share. Thinking about particularly students who identify as women, how can these partnerships work to remove barriers for students who identify as women and other underrepresented groups in computing? How can we use this two- to four-year transfer to really increase representation? 

Melanie:

I mean, as I alluded to, that the women in computing conferences, that we ended up sharing between the two colleges, where we would have the community college one year, and the four-year was a perfect way of breaking some of those barriers, because there were common faces coming to each. And what we did find was at the community college, we kept hearing there were more men who would attend it, which was fantastic. So you had a lot of the allies that were built into it, and then, as they transferred, they continued going to these conferences, and really building the same faces that you’re seeing as they transfer.

So it was a comfort. So I think, having that relationship from the start really helped to build the relationship even for our students, so that they felt comfortable.

Matt:

I can jump in. For me, the role of mentoring has been just an absolute, transformative presence. My first NCWIT Summit was 2018, and there I learned the phrase “If I can see it, I can be it.” And as I’ve taken students through, I tried to bring in speakers and mentors that underrepresented populations in IT can identify with and reach out to as mentors as they go through. Again, one of the big challenges I have for the roles I’m preparing them in, I always talk about the Google memo from 2017 and preparing any underrepresented student. The Google memo was about women, but there are going to be people who have these underperforming perceptions of whoever you are, whatever you look like, if you’re in an underrepresented group, because they’ve got stuff up here that’s working against you. You’ve got to figure out how to work with that, how to work around that, and how to work through that to succeed. And a mentor is an absolutely critical asset for that: You’ve got somebody who’s farther along in the game, they know what they’re doing, they’ve navigated these people before. Yeah, so for me it’s all about the mentor game.

Thu:

Kayla, I’d like to add to what Matt said a little bit in the sense that I think sometimes what we overlook and we forget in the partnership is the power of bringing the students together in the partnership. You know we are faculty, or even people who graduated hope that – I think it’s powerful, but in some ways we are in many ways not as powerful as the students hearing from each other. So in our partnership, If we can get our students at the four-year to speak more with the two-year, like the shared experiences to build community, I think that might have a really powerful effect.

I don’t know yet, we haven’t managed to do it, but I’ve [[unclear]]. Right now, the body of transfer students arriving to Rutgers is actually increasing the gender gap in our computer science program. We have a lower percentage of women looking to declare in CS. 

Now, if they make it into a higher-level class, we start to see this effect even with the second course that we look at. The retention rate for women students is actually higher than those that start out as first year with us. But those who have to – but the gender gap is wider, and so I do think that there are other diversities beyond gender that we haven’t looked at, and so I do think that that there’s contributions to diversity there, but if we really want to increase diversity, and even beyond increasing diversity, reach other students with opportunities that these majors offer. Connecting the students through the partnership, and then helping the students, when they arrive, to have some sense of community. I think that could maybe have a really powerful effect.

Kayla:

Great. Thank you all. I guess, to conclude the panel session of this before we move into discussion – I’m sure there’ll be great questions, I know I have a few – why don’t we summarize for everybody a key best practice or a big success that you’ve seen from these partnerships: one that we really want to hone in on and lead us into discussion with. Kind of the pie in the sky the rest of us can aspire to. 

Matt:

I think for me, speaking just from my own students’ background degree, instilling inspirational and aspirational figures as early as possible. Because I know my students in networking, for example, when they hit subnetting, and they have to start thinking in base 2 instead of base 10, and they struggle to get through that. Knowing that there are people in their shoes who did that and broke through is just fuel that no inspirational speech I can give can provide, but showing that person connecting to that person, letting them talk to that person, that’s amazing. So putting in those figures that they can look at and they can see, that’s critical for me.

Thu:

Kayla, given that 25% of our graduates are transfer students, and I think that this is true throughout the school, Arts and Science and Rutgers – New Brunswick. In fact, the percentage may even be higher for the school as a whole compared to your site. I do think that the underlying framework, or partnership, that has been set up throughout the state works, and so I think that’s a really bright spot. I do think that we can improve it for a discipline like computer science. I do think that the transfers are uneven across the community colleges across New Jersey – partly because of historical reasons, partly for other things, so there’s work to be done. But I think that there’s a framework there that is a success for us, that we can lean on, that we can build out on.

And so I do think that at least we have a foundation in New Jersey to really do building around for computer science. And I’m thankful for that. And I think it’s a good starting place.

Kayla:

I like that framework. Melanie?

Melanie:

And I’m going to say mentors are incredibly important. Finding the framework that works together is really important. I want to say using your resources, and again, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say the resources from NCWIT, and this is not a commercial. This was my own idea. But the resources that they have about how to create these relationships, and how to start mentoring, and how to – you know, all the things that we talk about, and their resources that are out there, and making sure that you not only use the resources, but you share the resources with other colleges, so that you can all work together and find how to fit these pieces together. So I’d say, on top of everything, these are great things. It’s also use your resources. 

Thu:

That’s a great point, Melanie.

You know one of the things we’ve been trying to work here is, for example, when you talk about data science, that is resource intensive. And we’ve been consulting with partners to say, hey, can we set up partnerships where we share some of these. What we’re setting up at Rutgers, 

sometimes we have the benefit of having some staff and equipment. But can we share these [[unclear]]? Would it be useful? And I think that can also be a really good way of building these partnerships, and having the students interact.

Kayla:

Presenters, thank you so much. I’m going to hand it over to Matt, who’s going to open it up for everyone to ask questions. I’m sure there are many. 

Matt:

Thanks, Kayla. Yeah, thank you all for warming us up, and really sharing some great experiences. I just put in the chat, but just a reminder: Place questions in the chat, or use the raise-hand feature. We’ve got a good-sized group here for some good discussion, so I’m really excited to have you all here, and I’ll pass it off to my colleague and teammate Gretchen Achenbach, who’s going to help thread the needle and work this group discussion, and I’ll be keeping an eye on the chat as well. So, any question is a good question. We just ask you to work with us in creating a safe space, one that shares the mic and is inclusive to other opinions.

So thank you, and we’ll spend the second half here in group discussion and invite you all to share your questions to Gretchen.

Gretchen:

Hi. So, I’m Gretchen Achenbach. I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself earlier. I’m a research scientist with NCWIT. I’m also at the University of Virginia, in the Department of Engineering and Society, and I work with our various Academic Alliance members on increasing representation in their programs.

And I think for questions, again, if people want to put it in the chat, or people want to raise their hands, anything like that is fine. And also to be on camera, we’d like to see you, and I think maybe I’ll just start with the question that we had submitted. If I can find it here, I’ve got too many things open. Okay, somebody had asked us, how can institutions better support marginalized students in computing, particularly black and brown students, and how has this information benefited your students? 

I guess I would say in particular, maybe thinking about students who are on that transfer pathway, who are going from two-year to four-year, and then they get the four-year. If any of our two-year people want to comment on what’s working, what hasn’t or our four-year, how you support them once they get into that program so that they succeed. What do they need to succeed? 

Thu:

Melanie, Matt? Gretchen, can I ask you to just repeat the last part about what to succeed? Sorry, I missed that a little bit. 

Gretchen:

Thinking about how students are supported when they make that transfer – what helps them to succeed when they get there? 

Thu:

I think that one of the issues I’ve really heard about is a sense of belonging and community, especially for students in underrepresented minority groups.

And the issue is that freshman students incoming to a place like Rutgers, that has 30,000 students, that’s a time when they meet other students.

They build friendships, they get into groups, and two years later they have settled into a pattern of having their friends, people that they spend time with. And you have transfer students coming in from throughout the state, possibly not really having known each other, and they arrive in an environment where they are more isolated. And the large group of students who’ve been there two years have built their network. And so one thing I’ve heard is that landing in an environment like that, it’s very hard to find a sense of belonging, especially if you look around and you see nobody similar to you, because you’re in these large classes, and you’re from an underrepresented group.

So that is one of the things that I think is really important. The second thing that seems to be important is where differences in some of the introductory courses have come into play as a four-year revises its curriculum, and when there’s not proper communication between a four-year and a two-year, courses will drift apart. And students are expected to have certain knowledge, and yet they’ve gotten something somewhat different at the two-year colleges. And then they have to adjust, and computer science is an incredibly intensive major at Rutgers. So when you arrive here, if you don’t start at some later stage and you have to start over, or you slow down, you’re not going to finish in two years. And so those are two of the things that I’ve heard of being challenges for students arriving to Rutgers.

Melanie:

So support, I would say, is when I think about the student groups that you have, and involving, if you know that the two-year, because two-year student groups are hard to start, hard to keep going, because by the time you get momentum, you lose them. But if you can have that carryover and communicate with the four-years and have them interact, do projects together, even just meet and have community, that’s going to create those connections of those things, so women in computing, or any kind of the Latino computing organizations. All of those are things that you have them communicate and reach out, and just talk, I mean sometimes that’s all you need: What am I learning? What are you doing? And I would even bridge that further to high schools, because as we see more and more high schools who are pulling in, we have high schools who have these groups and they’re thriving groups because they have been together forever. So if you can start reaching out to them and involving them, then you suddenly have this continuum that goes through the four-year and you’re still talking, or you can even bring people in easier because you’re making those connections.

Matt:

So I actually wanted to, speaking as a two-year, somebody who’s asking about that, one of the things I found that works really well is – graduation from two-year to four-year is a transition, and I am thinking about one student in particular, Chloe. She went through my program, she was in my capstone class, so we kind of spent that intensive period together, when she told me she was transferring to ECU.

I have friends from Florida State that I knew as undergraduates or graduate students, but still colleagues over there. So I reached out to one and said I’ve got a student who’s transferring over there, can I do kind of a handoff? So you know you can start talking to her, if you have resources, you can connect her to. So she arrived with someone there in the system who knew the system, and he took her under his wing and helped her make that transition.

And I think that is, from what I’ve heard, for like even when I was an undergraduate myself, I heard from the transfers, just the idea that I’m here, now what? So to make that kind of warm transfer, so when she gets there, or the student gets there, they know one person. Now granted, it’s an adult, so you know you’re not gonna party and hang out and stuff. But you know someone inside the ecosystem who can start to help you assimilate. You can start to connect in ways that I never could. 

And Chloe still emails me with updates occasionally. So I think that is the most important part of that transition going from two-year to four-year, knowing that they’re not just leaving. We’re closing a door behind them, we’re handing them off, but my hand’s still here, if you need to reach out or fall or get caught. I think that’s probably the best thing that you can do at the two-year end to help them into that four-year.

Melanie:

And I just wanted to add one more thing that it made me think of is that with our new engineering technology programs, part of it is that they’re required to do internships in the middle, so at the end of the two-year they have one, but then in the middle of the third. So you have these same placements at the same companies with people who are both two- and four-year, and so they’re meeting people when they’re in it, and they have that in common. So we were very fortunate that we’ve had a lot of businesses who really latched onto this model, and they really love the fact that they have this. So now we have students who will have that community built.

Gretchen:

Thank you, Melanie.

We have a question in the chat, which I think is a really good one, which maybe our speakers could comment on, some of the common pitfalls to avoid when building these collaborative relationships. What have you done that’s not gone the right way, or that you’d recommend avoiding?

Melanie:

If you have the luxury of being able to build it, make sure that you’re talking to each other.

So a pitfall would be not checking in for key things, like is there a math level you prefer, or do you have a language that you prefer, or anything that so it’s not talking to each other. That’s a pitfall – it’s communication, lack of. 

Matt:

And I can dovetail off of that. I think the biggest pitfall is from two-year to four-year. You kind of have two entities at different poles, and each one kind of expects you to come over to the other one. We always want to talk about students, go where the students are. Likewise in this kind of relationship, whether you’re a two-year to a four-year or a four-year to a two, you have to meet each other somewhere, and then work on pulling them over to that four-year.

I think the biggest pitfall that I’ve seen is, I approach four-years, and they’re expecting my two-years right out of the box to be able to go in there and fall into place. Being able to think about that for lack of a better word that frog in boiling water, where you’re just amping, amping, amping, amping, you’re up to speed, and I think that’s where failures tend to happen.

Students get the metaphorical equivalent of whiplash when they go from the two-year into the four-year. They’re dropped onto the treadmill, and they haven’t had that kind of spin-up time, and so being able to work on both sides, meet somewhere, and then get to where you need to be for that transition. It’s a give and take on both ends.

Thu:

I can’t agree more with Matt. I do think that the deep pitfall there is not understanding necessarily each other’s environment and goals. I think I said earlier, the community colleges are obviously interested in having transfer students, but they’re also interested in graduating the students, and some with very pragmatic skills, presumably. So that’s number one; it’s understanding that there are tensions in the different goals, and making sure to try and line up on the parts that line up and recognizing each other’s differences that you can account for. I think that’s one challenge that we run into. 

And I would say the second is the attitude that Matt mentioned earlier, that four-years and two-years tend to have their own attitude and vision about the good in their places and the things that can be “fixed” at the other institution. And I think that you really have to convince your folks – and the reason I said this is because it’s hard for any one person to do anything – it really takes a committed set of people. And that set of people has to have the right attitude that the two-year colleges have super people, super students. They are in a different environment, so I have to come into that with the same mindset. And I think that the two-years have some of the same challenges the other way. But I won’t speak for those folks. And so making sure that people have the right mindset and really, a deep respect for what each other does, is really a necessary foundation for success.

Gretchen:

Thank you. We have a comment in the chat from Erika Dawson. Could we put you on the spot, Erika?

About their background service that they have a summer transfer program. And I wonder if you’d like to say more about that, and also because you said it was grant funded, if that means that it is short term, is this a sustainable approach? Sounds like a good approach, but if it’s only on the term of a grant, then it might not be long term.

Erika:

Well here at UMass Amherst it’s a collaboration between – it was created by the department, the College of Information and Computer Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the College of Natural Sciences, and it is funded by the Massachusetts State Education Department.

It’s been funded for the last three years. It’s a small, rather, I say rather small, but I think it’s like we’ve gotten up to $60,000. I mean, we’re really killing it now, but I think really small, because, and when you’re thinking about how many students that we’re trying to reach out to, I mean it’s been adequate. So I will not complain and I’m very thankful and gracious, but it’s been a collaboration between our three colleges, and it was an initiative that came to be where they were in a great situation, where there was an opportunity for the grant. We applied for it, and we worked to gather in creating the wraparound services. The first class that we based it on is that the requirement from the Massachusetts State Grant was that we have a three-credit class that must be able to be used toward the student’s major included in the grant.

But we were really given leadway to create whatever we wanted. So a lot of the things that we created were wraparound services. So we had focused the first two or three years on a junior-year writing class that was a requirement for all the students, where the students meet on a weekly basis, and we created support wraparound services around the class itself.

So, for example, if part of the job for that week was you’re writing your resume and doing different writing projects, we created supports directly into the class, where they would come and meet with us for an hour, but we would also bring in the library, where you’re going to do all your research. We would start introducing it to all of the different departments at UMass.

In addition, we also would bring in people that were really important. Do we want to know who are the multicultural centers that are on campus?

We also brought the students on campus for lunches, and to hang out and to meet all of us.

We engage with them on a weekly basis – me, another person from the College of Natural Sciences, and someone else from engineering.

And then at the end we had a big celebration, and we were able to work into the grant some book money for the students, so that when they left they had a few hundred dollars to be able to go and buy books for the semester or pay for gas, because we also know that, something that we’re not really talking about, is the financial issues that a lot of these students are facing.

If they take the time to do this class and they take the time to come and do this transition, it’s going to take away from money that they could be earning for their households.

So this was a way to – it’s not all the money you would be making, but it does give you some services that we’ve also been able to provide – perks like meal tickets, and things like that, into it. So it was very thoughtful. I have to say, it was really great to collaborate with the other departments and to create something like this, and it’s been ongoing for a few years now.

Gretchen:

Erika, Melanie had a question in the chat about whether the community colleges that the students are coming from were included.

Erika:

Oh my gosh, are they! They were totally included. So the community colleges, they actually were, the money actually goes directly to the community colleges. And the community colleges are put in charge of, they are at the helm of it. So we’ve worked with Springfield Technical Community College, Greenfield Community College, which are all different community colleges in our area. STCC at one point. Well, STCC is Springfield Tech Community College, but there’s a lot of community colleges that came together, and when we have our meetings for the grant, they are led by the community colleges, and we are automatically connected with certain community – well, a few different community colleges that are our colleges.

But as long as you attend a community college in Massachusetts, and you’re allowed to participate in this, and there’s other little pieces that we have, but in general, if you go to community college, you can go to be a part of this, apply to be a part of the program. But absolutely, and they still meet with us to this day. We still have regular meetings, but it has also branched into other concerns and other conversations. Like I think something that’s very important, and something powerful to talk about, is what about I know that we had articulation agreements were listed in there. But we really want to talk about one class may not be the same class, even though they have the same number. And how are we bridging those gaps because now that we’ve realized, hey, some of these things they say they’re the same but they’re not really lining up to support the students, and and now we’re in that phase where I’m sitting here thinking how how do I get my faculty to come together with the community colleges, because we need to schedule regular meetings.

I think – at least this is what’s in my brain – it’s, how do we get to that point where we can schedule regular meetings with the community colleges, so that we can all be on the same channel and really strengthen their programs and strengthen ours in a sense, because it’s a win-win. And I think that that’s the mindset and the frame that this was this whole approach was, but that those conversations have started to come from this. Now, okay, we’re starting to see these things, and how do we fix them.

Gretchen:

And Erica, I’ll pick on you one more time. This is a good question in the chat about how that grant was created at the state level. The legislature? Who administers it? How did that come about?

Erika:

I think it was the State Department that – I don’t know if I should say this on a recording. But who knows? They might have a little space and they said, hey, this would be something that we really want to tackle is helping students to be more successful when they’re going into these four-year environments and then they went to the community colleges, and then the community colleges brought us into it.

So there has been a yearly program. We started out very small, I mean, it was really – I mean, the thing is that my small might not be your small, right? So it was like, I want to say, 20 students, or something like that, it was small. And then, so now our goal – I don’t know, we’ll see if we get it – but we’ve doubled it, to like 40, but we don’t have a huge amount of transfers from my department, at least computer science, because I’m with the Manning College of Information in Computer Sciences. We don’t have a huge amount of transfers in that way, coming into our college, but the ones that are coming I’m definitely encouraging them to join this program, so that I get to meet them, they connect with me, if – and I’ve had students that we stay connected afterwards like. So you might meet with me in the summer, but there’s nothing for us to have events or call them and say, hey, how’s everything going, let’s have a Zoom meeting, let’s connect. And there’s times when you realize oh, student needs help, okay, let’s figure this out, I’m glad I contacted you early.

So this is what we’re going to do, and then I can help them to get to resources or get them to the right people that they need to be in touch with, so that we can help resolve their issues, and sometimes I go back to the community college partner and say look, we know that this student, this is what’s going on, what do you have on your end that can help along with my end?

Because I think that it’s a community that builds the – that community that’s going to help the student to get through the actual college, and just as a disclaimer. I also was a community college student that went to a four-year afterwards. So I have, I understand what it is a little bit. 

Gretchen:

We care. I think that sort of picks up really nicely on what Matt was saying about just that importance of having support and personal contact, and mentoring, and so forth, to make that transition smoother.

Unfortunately, we are almost to the hour. I’m going to turn it over to Matt to close this up. Thank you everybody for coming. 

Matt Muchya that is; we’ve got a couple of Matts here. 

Matt:

Thanks, Gretchen. And thanks for the great insights there, Erika. I appreciate that. I’m going to share screen so just a heads up, because it might sabotage you for a moment.

But just really quickly want to invite you all to keep this conversation going.

I mean, I think for me the Academic Alliance is a place to connect and really share ideas like this. So the Higher Ed email group was started about two years ago. It’s small, but growing. I think we’re at 270 subscribers, many of which are passionate about broadening participation and increasing the the participation of of women and non-binary students in technology.

It’s free, you can join as long as your institution is a member of the Academic Alliance, which is also free for accredited nonprofit institutions.

So, if you have any issues joining, or your institution is not a member of the Academic Alliance, it can be a great first step, not only to get connected to our resources and awards and different programs, but also to get connected to like-minded colleagues. So we invite you to join the Higher Ed email group. And last but not least, we’d love to hear your feedback from this event.

We’re continually trying to make these events better, trying to do a couple every semester on different topics.

So if you have ideas that you’d like for us to pull together, this eval survey is a great space to leave that comment. And before we close, I just want to say a few thank yous, first and foremost to our speakers today, for sharing their time and insights and perspective from both sides, two-year and four-year.

I thought that was a really great discussion, and I wanted to thank Kayla Gross for moderating as well as Ruby ElKarboutly, for helping us with the introductions and moderation today.

Also thanking the NCWIT programming team. It’s a team of volunteers that help with our events, and they came up with a lot of ideas and outreach support for this event. And lastly, the NCWIT team, Gretchen. Chris, for joining today, and the rest of the communication and tech team for the support. Thank you all for joining, this concludes our session today, and feel free to reach out with any questions: academic@ncwit.org. And be safe and take care of one another, and we look forward to seeing you all soon.

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