By May S. Ruiz
Most 18-year-olds in America reach an important milestone in their lives – graduating from high school and entering college. This significant event usually involves moving away from home for the first time, making them independent people whether they are ready for it or not even close.
The fact that so many teenagers going to college are unsure about how to navigate this new phase on their own was not lost on administrators and teachers at Pasadena City College.
Brock Klein, PCC’s associate dean of pathways and professional learning, described what they observed.
“Like other community colleges, PCC has struggled to help students identify their academic goals in a timely manner,” he said. “A powerful and transformative moment for me was when we convened a large group of campus leaders, and they presented their research data that showed that a vast majority of students were not completing their basic skills sequence. Over 65 percent didn’t have discernible outcome or milestone after six years, and almost 20 percent dropped out before the end of their first year of college.”
These findings led them to create First Year Pathways – a road for leading incoming students to transition to college smoothly and achieve success in school.
This program was made possible through resources from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title V grant, Student Access and Success Initiative funds.
Incoming freshmen enrolled in Pathways get guaranteed priority registration, acquire vital assistance in and out of the classroom from counselors, mentors and tutors, gain access to a study center and obtain access to the Second Year Pathway.
First Year Pathways is made up of three components, the first of which is Summer Bridges. They currently host ESL, Design and Math Jams, which is the biggest. This is a one-week, no-cost event that combines creative math instruction with student support services and engaging orientation activities.
It is designed to make it a fun way to learn math by making the subject less intimidating for students who are below the required college-level skill. Incoming freshmen attend workshops, meet faculty, tutors, advisors and counselors to familiarize them with campus life, and new students get acquainted with their classmates.
Summer Math Jam participants found that it really wasn’t about learning math but about making connections and being comfortable on campus.
New students then get to meet the Student Success Team of counselors, coaches and tutors, which makes up the second component of FYP. This group of experts is trained to handle their special needs, assist them academically and personally in getting and understanding their regular course status reports. Success Team members also teach time-management strategies, goal-setting and study skills.
Tutors are the most interesting components of the FYP team, as they are PCC students who serve as role models or peer guides for the newcomers. They meet with FYP participants throughout the first year of college on a one-on-one basis or in small groups. A tutor also serves as the assistant director for the Math Jam.
The third component is the first seminar, College 1, which is a three-unit UC- and CSU-transferable course requirement for each FYP student. It includes the “One Book, One College” initiative designed to get everyone to read and discuss one book and share their perspectives.
First Year Pathways students’ work is celebrated at the end of the program at an all-day Student Success Conference, where they present their research inspired by the book.
There are five different First Year Pathways.
The largest is XL Pathway, which is open to everyone.
The Athletes Pathway is a program that addresses this specific group.
The International Students Pathway, which is a variation of the XL, focuses on compliance and visa issues, acculturation, reading, language and an introduction to college.
Career Pathways in Design Technology and Media Arts and the Ujima Pathway, which deals with African-American culture and history, are also components of the program.
First Year Pathways is open to any incoming student within Pasadena City College’s district that encompasses a wide swath of the western San Gabriel Valley – La Canada-Flintridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Marino, Temple City, San Gabriel, Arcadia and parts of El Monte.
Javier Carbajal-Ramos, the program’s outreach assistant, goes to all the high schools in those cities to familiarize seniors with the opportunities available to them. He outlines the steps for anyone interested – complete the online admissions application, take the online student orientation, take the Math and English placement tests, apply to one of the First Year Pathways, and attend a New Student Counseling Session.
As director of the hugely successful FYP, Klein proudly says that at the end of program’s first year, evaluation findings showed that students’ success rate was higher than their comparison group.
They piloted this program with 300 students in 2011. This year the FYP served almost 1,900 students and is expected to grow to 2,500 participants next year.
The San Gabriel Valley is home to a number of very desirable, highly selective colleges and universities that enhance the lives of students lucky enough to gain admission to them. But Pasadena City College stands out as the one institution of learning that actually transforms lives.