Peer Review

Cross-Campus Collaboration and Experiential Learning at Hostos Community College

As part of the continuing efforts of Eugenio María de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY) to improve our services, we have engaged recently in a cross-campus collaboration to review and revise the ways we prepare our students. In 2011, the college sent a team of seven faculty, staff, and administrators to the AAC&U Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success to follow up on our work begun at previous summer institutes. The Hostos team planned to explore ways to improve developmental and first-year programs for our students, using tools such as the VALUE rubrics, the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes, and high-impact practices. We also decided to expand our scope to include improvement of all aspects of an incoming college student’s first semester, rather than focusing only on the academic program.

Addressing Underpreparation

As Michael et al. (2010) notes, “Current research suggests that, nation-wide, incoming freshman classes are underprepared for college-level work.” At Hostos, this is certainly the case. Historically, nearly 90 percent of our entering first-year students have at least one developmental/remedial need. In order to progress to college-level courses, students must pass the reading, writing, and mathematics CUNY skills tests. Unfortunately, large numbers of students do not pass both the reading and writing tests and, consequently, they drop out of college. In addition, upwards of 80 percent of Hostos’s entering class is comprised of first-generation students who have little or no knowledge of college expectations. But as McNair and Albertine argue (2012), “Our society can no longer afford to reserve ‘islands of innovation’ for a select group of students while others, often students traditionally underserved, receive an education more suited to the industrial age.” With this ideal of inclusion in mind, our primary objective at the institute was to review and revise our developmental and remedial curricula so that students would attain the skills necessary to pass the required tests and persist in their studies. The secondary objective was to help those students make the transition to college.

Over the years, we have tried a number of different ways to attempt to address remediation, including the adoption of a variety of high-impact practices that were not tied to any specific academic program. After participating in the 2011 Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success, we refined our approach by integrating a number of different practices into a comprehensive student experience.

Faculty and Staff Collaboration

We began by using curricular ideas developed during the institute. After learning that “summer bridge programs... assist students in enhancing their academic success and...increase retention and degree completion rates,” we created a summer bridge program that was offered in late July 2012 (Raines 2012). We structured the initial summer bridge program to take place over two days, dividing students into four groups who complete four different modules—educational planning, learning supports, classroom expectations, and time management—that were developed by faculty and staff from both academic affairs and the student development and enrollment management divisions. In addition, there were four workshops focusing on accessing different support services such as educational technology, the library, advisement, and campus orientation. Giuliano and Sullivan refer to this multidirectional channeling of students’ cognitive, social, and emotional domains and learning profiles as “academic wholism” (2007).

The most important part of structuring a successful summer bridge was working effectively with different campus leaders. Therefore, prior to working on our curriculum, senior administrative officers and selected faculty and staff participated in a one-day, off-campus retreat, where we held a team-building exercise to develop our modules. This retreat directly challenged the structural model we have been tethered to historically. Kezar (2005) notes that the “departmental silos and bureaucratic, hierarchical administrative structures in higher education represent an institutional and academic history that goes back a hundred years and reflect norms that reach far beyond campus borders.”

Indeed, unlike Russell and Flynn’s (2000) observation that “effective collaboration is an illusory ideal too complex or time consuming for achievement by mere mortals,” the Hostos experience revealed that collaboration was fostered through working together to draw out collective areas of expertise.

Since the summer bridge program was successful (indeed, it was repeated again in winter 2013), and the planning process highlighted how effectively different members of the college community collaborated, we decided to offer students early experiential learning opportunities and exposure to potential careers during their first-year experience. In career services, we are focusing on one component of service learning that is being piloted in two office technology and public administration courses. With collaboration from the faculty of the business and behavioral and social sciences departments and funding from career services’ component of the college’s Perkins Grant, we set out to make students more aware of career and civic engagement possibilities. Traditionally, students were only offered experiential learning opportunities in their final semester at Hostos.

We have found internships to be a particularly useful form of experiential learning for our students. At Hostos, the internship program is funded through Perkins Grants and administered through career services. We currently offer two types of internships—both receive course credit, but one is optional whereas the other has been structured as part of the curriculum in a range of fields (i.e., accounting, community health, digital design, digital music, education, gerontology, office technology, and paralegal studies).

The Cooperative Education and Internship Program

Faculty and staff working collaboratively in the programs listed above, has led to a significant impact on student development and employment. Recognizing that we should “support those faculty and staff whose vision and commitment remain strong, [we] seek out new faculty and staff whose skills and potential are clear, and find new ways to support and nurture all of them” (Farrell 2000). We also know, from our work launching the Cooperative Education and Internship Program at Hostos Community College and from Arbuckle and DeHoog, that in “order to be effective, community collaborations have to include everyone affected in the decision making process” (2008). To that end, we have established and fostered faculty, staff, and employer partnerships. Since 2005, we have increased the size of our program from placing fifty student interns to more than three hundred annually.

The Cooperative Education and Internship program is an important part of the college’s future strategy, and is one that recognizes that “the potential benefits to students of participating in the co-op experience include gaining a real-world perspective that enhances the student’s academic experience, becoming a more mature individual as a result of working with professionals, and improving job placement and salary prospects at the time of graduation” (Blair and Millea 2004).

The kind of growth we have experienced in the Cooperative Education and Internship Program was only possible through a confluence of three separate factors: preparation of students, outreach to local businesses, and faculty buy-in. Student preparation is facilitated through meetings with co-op counselors prior to any contact with employers. Students are provided with a comprehensive employment readiness program that includes individual counseling, assessment of student goals, resume services, mock interviews, and post-internship follow-up. One highlight of the services we provide is access to a lending wardrobe, called the “Suited for Success Resource Room.” The Career Services Office houses interview attire and appropriate accessories for students. To better equip our students to “look the part” is crucial and we are able to assist them in their wardrobe. This assistance is necessary since our students come from the poorest congressional district in the nation. Accordingly, we have purchased new items and have solicited donations from staff, faculty, and employers.

The partnership between academic affairs and career services has resulted in a rewarding experience for not only the students, but the faculty and employers as well. The conversation is open ended and all parties are involved in the success of the student. At first, when we partnered with employers, we were mostly interested in learning about position openings; however, we’ve recently moved toward a more professional relationship with our students’ future employers. This year, for example, we are asking employers to provide curricular ideas and come to campus to make direct presentations to students in the various programs. This has only been possible with support from faculty. Employers are made aware of what learning outcomes we’d like students to achieve, and we partner to develop a strategy to make it happen. With the use of the Learning Agreement and Cooperative Education Contract—which is signed by the student, site supervisor, faculty member, and co-op staff—all stakeholders are aware of their roles in the success of the process. The learning agreement lists specific goals for students and skills and strengths we can expect them to gain through assignments and on-the-job training. On the other hand, the cooperative education contract details what role the participants have in this endeavor. At any given time, the Career Services Office and faculty can review the status of a student’s progress. It is imperative to have this dialogue, as it allows the faculty to share with students the skills needed for ultimate success and future employment.

The success of the internship program has been facilitated by using integrated technology for management and communication. An online tracking system was developed to monitor student attendance at the internship sites. This system also allows the student to enter online journals detailing their internship experience on a weekly basis. Staff and employers have access to enter and approve student documents and give feedback. Added to this, staff from the career service offices are welcome to join faculty in the classroom to review a particular skill. Faculty have commented that the collaboration with career services has been crucial for helping students gain knowledge in their fields of interest.

We have worked diligently over the last decade to foster beneficial relationships between the Career Services Office and academic departments and we now engage with a large number of faculty members. As an office, we host annual meetings to inform faculty of changes or updates to the internship program and we conduct outreach to new faculty members. For those whose students are participating in the program, we manage internship placement, monitor student and employer compliance, and evaluate student performance. In the end, we all come together to celebrate the success of the student in an annual recognition ceremony.

The success of our collaborations would not be possible without the support from our leadership to use campus networks to create a more open and transparent process. Our leadership engages each division—academic affairs, student development and enrollment, administration and finance, institutional advancement, and continuing education and workforce development—in collaborative professional development opportunities and strategic partnerships through cross-campus committees. Hostos Community College creates a highly interactive and engaging learning environment that has strengthened all of our strategic leadership skills, enhanced our ability to forge effective partnerships and has provided us with ongoing support. Our senior leadership is continuously working with the faculty and staff to guide us in understanding the mission of our institution and how each of us have an important role—not only in our primary functions, but in understanding the overarching goals and how what we do is directed by our mission, vision, and strategic plans as we work to deliver successful programs and services to our students.

Our future plans include measuring the impact of students completing internships and how it contributes to student retention and graduation at Hostos.

References

Arbuckle M. B., and R. H. DeHoog. 2004. “Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPS) Programs: Connecting a University to a Distant Neighborhood: Three Stages of Learning and Adaptation.” Journal of Community Practice 12 (3/4): 53–70.

Blair, B., and M. Millea. 2004. “Student Academic Performance and Compensation: The Impact of Cooperative Education.” College Student Journal 38 (4): 643–652.

Farrell, C. 2000. Rethinking a Vision: Adjustment or Transformation? Makeover or Remake? Community Review 18: 101–104.

Giuliano B., and J. Sullivan. 2007. “Academic Wholism: Bridging the Gap between High School and College.” American Secondary Education 35 (3): 7–18.

Kezar, A. 2005. “Moving from I to We: Reorganizing for Collaboration in Higher Education.” Change 37 (6): 50–57.

McNair, T. B., and S. Albertine. 2012. “Seeking High-Quality, High-Impact Learning: The Imperative of Faculty Development and Curricular Intentionality.” Peer Review 14 (3): 4–5.

Michael A. et al. 2010. “College Prep Blueprint for Bridging and Scaffolding Incoming Freshmen: Practices that Work.” College Student Journal 44 (4): 969–978.

Raines, J. M. 2012. “FirstSTEP: A Preliminary Review of the Effects of a Summer Bridge Program on Pre-College STEM Majors.” Journal of STEM Education 31(1): 22–29.

Russell, J. F., and R. B. Flynn. 2000. “Commonalities across Effective Collaboratives.” Peabody Journal of Education 75 (3):196–204.


Lisanette Rosario is the acting director of career services; Eunice Flemister is lecturer and coordinator, gerontology unit; Richard Gampert is acting assistant dean, institutional research and student assessment; and Carl James Grindley is an associate professor, English department—all from Eugenio María de Hostos Community College of the City University of New York.

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