One of the strongest and most successful of our College’s professional development efforts has been the Leadership Institute. Each year, participants drawn from all employee groups take part in monthly sessions designed to build both individual and organizational capacity. At the close of our spring semester, I was privileged to attend one of the final Institute sessions, during which this year’s participants reported on their respective group projects.
The completion of such a project is an essential component of the Leadership Institute experience. A primary goal is to raise awareness of institutional goals and to develop new and effective ways to work together to achieve them. A second major goal is for participants to further develop leadership abilities on an experiential level.
The theme for the year’s project, very much aligned with our Achieving the Dream student success agenda, was “Fostering Student Engagement and Persistence.” A major challenge facing community colleges nationwide is the fact that many of our students leave us before they have achieved their academic and personal goals. Although researchers have identified teaching strategies that correlate highly with increased student engagement and retention, the responsibility for creating a welcoming and supportive environment for students extends to all areas of the College.
The Leadership Institute Class of 2008–09 worked on three projects this year that will foster student engagement and persistence. Charis Felton (Athletics), Maryann Lyons (Academic Affairs), Girija Nagaswami (English) and Leanna Phan (Financial Aid) developed “Timely Online Reminders and Tips for Students’ Success.” Presented in an easy and accessible online format, these reminders and tips will make available important information at relevant points in the semester related to course information/academic progress, advising/registration, financial aid and cocurricular activities.
Kathryn Birster (Gateway to College), Jackie Butler (Academic Affairs) and Gina MacKenzie (English) focused on “Placement Test Preparation Workshops.” These noncredit workshops will assist incoming students who must take the placement test in preparing for the test by accessing knowledge they already possess and addressing stress management for an optimal testing experience.
Finally, Vanessa Brown (Academic Affairs), Henrietta Hadley (New Choices/New Options), and Sarah Iepson (Art) completed “Getting to the Other Side: Degree Tracking/Advisement Project.” The team developed an advising worksheet to serve as a tool for students in tracking their academic progress and as a resource for advisors during advising sessions.
While each of these projects meets Leadership Institute criteria, they also represent pilots that, if successful, can be institutionalized more broadly. This aspect of the Leadership Institute experience is a significant benefit, both to our Class of 2009 Institute colleagues and to our College-wide efforts to enhance the teaching and learning context for our students.