One Team. One Dream.

  • Tags: College Publication | General
Published 12/06/2021
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To change the game, it takes a team.

 

Elgin Community College is a welcoming campus where more than 1,250 employees and 8,400 students embody a diverse, inclusive community connected through a common goal to improve people’s lives through learning and career development.

In recent years, efforts to bolster a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) have become more formalized and more broadly recognized across the nation, progressing the already decades-long EDI work at ECC. From the classroom to the community, ECC is committed to celebrating and supporting the diversity of its students, employees, and community members through equitable and inclusive opportunities.

 

Student Success Infrastructure

ECC's Student Success Infrastructure (SSI), established by President Dr. David Sam in 2012, works to improve student success among diverse populations by institutionalizing equitable support and resources, promoting awareness and understanding of critical success factors, and dismantling structural barriers within the institution.

SSI initiates and leads pilot programs at the college to improve student success. TRIUMPH (Transforming and Impacting Undergraduate Men Pursuing Higher Education) was one effort born from priorities identified through SSI and has since become a leading program at the college due to its proven impact on student success. Started in 2019 and led by Erik Enders, student life coordinator for student equity, whose position evolved through SSI, TRIUMPH focuses on increasing the number of men of color graduating from college.

"The biggest impact of the program is the community it created," said Enders.

TRIUMPH equips its scholars with the tools to succeed in their personal, academic, and professional lives by fostering skills such as conflict resolution, goal setting, financial literacy, and public speaking. The program pairs participants with professional men of color mentors, and organizes events to expose them to opportunities such as various careers and places of work they may not have considered. The connection to other men of color is critical and serves as inspiration. "We try to show our scholars successful people who look like them and come from the same place they do," said Enders.

SSI initiatives also contributed to restructuring the traditional counselor position and dividing it into separate entities: employees who focus explicitly on academic and career advising and those dedicated to wellness and mental health. The ECC Wellness Center provides access for all students to receive support in addressing potential barriers in their lives preventing them from achieving educational success.

"We have a unique opportunity to truly learn about the diverse social and economic barriers affecting ECC students by working collaboratively with them to empower them to finish their degree and navigate the world," said Vinny Cascio, an ECC wellness professional.

Cascio also helped initiate and was a trainer for the Safe Zone Project, a two-hour training session developed to expose ECC employees to LGBTQIA+ culture and the barriers those students face. A total of 244 ECC employees completed the training, placing the Safe Zone Trained logo on their office doors to increase and spread awareness of their support and advocacy to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Currently led by co-chairs Yolonda Barnes, EdD, associate dean of sustainability, business, and career technologies, and Loretta Mielcarek, graphic design adjunct faculty, SSI continues its work for students and targeted populations. This work includes taskforces focused on increasing EDI awareness and implementation at the college through culturally responsive teaching, student goal completion, textbook cost reduction, veteran support services, and undocumented student assistance.

When it comes to providing greater access to students with various abilities, Pietrina Probst, director of ADA, student access and disability services, offers a wide range of services to help ECC students cope with a disability, both seen and unseen. Probst's department helps ensure equal access to education for those in need.

"When we become aware of a student need, it is our job to find out how we can best meet that need and fulfill our mission and commitment to our students," said Probst.

Diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as an adult, ECC student Aun Raza found the tools he needed to succeed through Probst's department. "The services I had access to made all the difference for me. Pietrina met with me nearly every week for the past year to help me stay focused and on track with my studies," said Raza.

ECC student Hope Torres, a former nurse graduating this fall with an Associate of Applied Science degree in human services-substance abuse counseling, first learned of student access and disability services by seeking transportation assistance. Torres' visual impairment began later in life and affected her nursing career. She commends Probst's understanding of students coping with a disability. "Instead of saying, 'it's okay,' she said, 'what do I need to do to help you,'" said Torres. "Disability is very individualized. I may not need some of the services, but at least I have them as a backup," Torres added.

The department assisted Torres with accessing books in audio form on and off-campus. In addition to the ADA department, ECC formed an accessibility committee last year, comprised of faculty and staff developing a five-year accessibility plan to further ECC's mission to ensure equal access to education for every student.

 

Student-Led

ECC also hosts many student-formed and led clubs that promote and celebrate various cultures and interests. For James Allen Jr., current student trustee and president of SWANS (Students Who Are Not Silent), feeling comfortable, finding fellowship, and securing support was pivotal as he decided to return to school. SWANS is the LGBTQIA+ advocacy group on campus. Participants discuss issues and promote the education and awareness of matters affecting the LGBTQIA+ community.

"The main way SWANS helps support me on campus is by just existing. Knowing that I have a safe place where other like-minded people gather to discuss the same issues I have makes me realize how inclusive ECC is to all of its students," said Allen.

In addition to SWANS, student clubs such as the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS), United Students of All Cultures (USAC), Black Student Achievers (BSA), the Asian-Filipino Club, and the ADAPT club for students with disabilities offer a space for cultural understanding and support for students.

"These clubs understand equity, diversity, and inclusion because these are the main pillars of a good and functional club," said Jenna Manzano, student body president. "For example, Student Government won't progress without having diverse opinions and voices. The only way that we can achieve this is by including all types of people in our club. As the student body president, my main goal is to create a safe space for students and see how I can help them through their personal journeys at ECC. Every student has different experiences and characteristics, and we must understand and have compassion for each other if we are to succeed together."

 

In the Classroom and Beyond

Four years ago, a group of ECC faculty and staff attended a Culturally Responsive Teaching conference in Baltimore, inspiring them to bring what they learned back to ECC and develop a committee focused on Teaching/Learning for Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity (TIDE).

"From the start, we sought to create a place of mutual support and connection. A space where faculty can come with questions, ideas, and even failures," said Elizabeth "Liddy" Hope, PhD, assistant professor of human services and the committee's co-chair.

Hope's fellow TIDE generators are co-chair Tyler Roeger, PhD, director of the center for the enhancement of teaching and learning (CETL), Susan Timm, EdD, professor of business, and Manuel Salgado, PhD, professor of psychology.

To bring this work into the classroom, TIDE provides multiple opportunities for engagement, including formal workshops, informal TIDE chats, and TIDE pods, which are groups within TIDE that support one another. With each opportunity and advancement, Hope emphasizes how TIDE encourages the welcoming mentality of faculty to come and say, "I know some things, but there are many more things I need to know."

Before TIDE cascaded its way into ECC, Professor of Business Clark Hallpike, MBA, had been advocating and working to bring cultural awareness and change concerning equity, diversity, and inclusion in the classroom and the community for the past 25 years. Along with Timm, Hallpike co-chairs the Multicultural and Global Initiatives Committee (MAGIC), an organization leading the way by holding meaningful discussions and events at the college to prepare individuals to succeed in a diverse society by providing and advancing multicultural learning experiences in an inclusive environment.

Hallpike can name one word to describe MAGIC's overall theme: change. Through MAGIC events, such as the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) series and the 2018 Targets of Hate series, the organization aims to engage faculty members because of their ability to reach and impact their students. Through MAGIC, faculty members are encouraged to attend events and bring their students, which helps discussions continue in their classrooms. "Part of our goal is to change people's attitudes regarding race and get our students acclimated to the world in which they live," said Hallpike.

MAGIC events welcome speakers from all college subjects, such as math and theater, providing a point of reference for each faculty member to relate to, learn from, and relay to their students. When the pandemic forced MAGIC events to switch to a virtual setting, it positively impacted the group's reach, opening the discussions to more people than previous in-person events. For the BLM series, more than 1,000 employees, students, and community members attended.

"Now, more than ever, we are set to make some major differences. We cannot let that momentum die," said Timm. "When the world is in chaos, you do something positive to move it forward."