By Lark Maag, Transform Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA Member at the Community College of Baltimore County
For many institutions, the pandemic has brought challenges for connection and outreach, but along with that, it has brought opportunities to be creative in the ways we connect. The Transform Mid-Atlantic AmeriCorps VISTA member at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) is working under the Bridges to Success program and Academic Pathways. Bridges to Success is a partnership between CCBC, Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS), and Baltimore area businesses to provide a hands-on system to ensure high school and college students are making informed decisions in their coursework that leads them to be better equipped for the job market. The VISTA member got creative earlier this year by collaborating with stakeholders and faculty to facilitate a virtual event bringing together students and academic program coordinators with the aim of improving student success.
On February 28th, CCBC hosted a virtual ice-cream social (with knowledge and resources as a stand-in for dairy and sprinkles) for students enrolled in the Academic Development course, or ACDV. ACDV is a first-year experience course designed to help students without prior college experience navigate the turbulent transition into college.
According to CCBC, a student in ACDV, “will learn how to stay informed, access technology and academic support, develop new skills, and explore student life activities and out-of-the-classroom opportunities to make the most of your time at CCBC.”
In addition to ACDV, students at CCBC are fortunate to have access to an abundant catalog of courses– essentially a Cheesecake Factory menu of academics. However, navigating this immense selection alone can lead to decision fatigue, a sense of disconnect, and a stomachache. Academic Pathways aims to mend this disconnect by guiding students through their program by offering course selection help, career-mindedness, social support, connection to resources and faculty, and other support services respective to each Pathway. Coordinators from each of the 9 Pathways at CCBC joined the event to introduce new students to this support service.
At this virtual mixer, students were given the opportunity to navigate breakout rooms through Microsoft Teams and meet with Pathway’s Coordinators. Students who have a declared major already have a designated Pathway, giving them the opportunity to connect with an authority on potential careers in their area of interest as well as ways to network with those with similar interests. For students in General Studies (an undecided major), this event gave them the chance to meet with various coordinators in one space to explore their options and receive guidance. Engaging with Pathways leads to more confident students who can make informed decisions and feel socially connected and supported by the CCBC community. Even more, students who are familiar and engaged with Pathways are more likely to earn a degree and/or move on to a 4-year college.
Keeping in mind the framework and goals central to Transform Mid-Atlantic, this event was modeled after the principle of Collective Impact. Collective impact is an intentional way of sharing, communicating, and collaborating to solve a common problem. Typically, the focus is on bringing together different institutions and using the strengths and resources of each to collectively solve a problem. This notion, though, is useful also within institutions. By combining Academic Pathways with ACDV, students will be reached in a comprehensive manner. Sharing resources and overlapping events not only frees up time for staff, advisors, and faculty to focus on other student support services, but it benefits students holistically because they receive more complete information and access to resources without having to fill in gaps themselves, thereby eliminating confusion, exasperation, and avoidable barriers.
As Kyle Goehner, the Director of Academic Pathways, puts it, “ACDV acts as a bridge between the enrollment process and academic coursework at CCBC. The Pathways support students along their academic coursework by ensuring their student experience is driven by transfer and workforce considerations. Connecting these two important parts of the student experience made a lot of sense, and we are fortunate that the Transform Mid-Atlantic VISTA program created an opportunity for us to do this work in a sustainable way. We look forward to continuing to connect the student experience through events like these in future semesters.”
The ACDV Academic Pathways Outreach Event successfully brought students, ACDV, and Pathways together during the event. Those involved are eager to grow this event, learn from user feedback, and build an even stronger model for incoming students in the fall. The hope is that this event becomes a standard, streamlined occurrence equipping students with a full arsenal of support services such that the community college menu will be just a little less daunting.