Remember the story about the little girl who was tossing stranded starfish back into the ocean? She was frantically running and tossing when the allegedly wise adult tells her: “Look at this beach. You can’t begin to make a difference.” Undeterred, she picked up another, tossed it in, and said, “Made a difference to that one.”
We’re a bit like that little girl at San Jacinto College. We don’t heed the criticism of others who tell us we’re trying to save too many students or do too much, or trying too many new ways to help students succeed. In fact, we’d rather them get out of our way instead of telling us what we can’t do while we’re doing it. We don’t point fingers, and we don’t give handouts—we give a hand up to students who just need a little help and direction navigating a complex system. And because of these efforts, more and more students are finishing what they start and taking full advantage of all the resources we have in place for them to succeed.
We are all moving in the same direction so students win and take with them the experience, skills, and knowledge to help them further their education, succeed in the workplace, and be good citizens. Keeping all the College plates spinning in this epic commitment to students is Dr. Laurel Williamson, our Deputy Chancellor and President, who recognizes that our students today and tomorrow depend on us to take care of matters they don’t even know exist. Sometimes we don’t even know what our future challenges will be.
And that’s why we can’t slow down and only focus on one project at a time. We can’t wait and let a demanding grant application daunt us with hopes of getting around to it next year. We are leaders, and not firing on all cylinders could mean our students don’t have every possible advantage. That is not acceptable.
We do it all by engaging small, tight teams with specific, realistic goals and timelines. Faculty work with Librarians and Student Services experts to facilitate more effective methods to reach students who need tutoring and academic support. Administrators work with legislators to explain our unique student populations and all the challenges students have in higher education today. Our work on student success in and out of the classroom is a privilege. And one we take very seriously.
Dr. Williamson and all of the leadership team trust our people, support and encourage them, and then watch the magic happen. In this way, we have scaled Intentional Connections to create learning communities that foster a sense of belonging for our College Preparatory students; are piloting SmartStart, an intensive on-boarding program to get first-time-in-college (FTIC) students off on the right foot; and we continue to refine new math sequences to help students over what has traditionally been a speed-bump barrier for many early in college. Once we integrate our all-encompassing pathways plan soon, we’ll see even more students succeed.
It’s hectic and always challenging, but yes, we do aspire to 100% success—every student—every time—all the starfish.
Dr. Ann M. Pearson is Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at San Jacinto College (TX), where she’s currently working with Accreditation & Assessment. She was an English faculty member for 25 years, with 7 of those at SJC. She occasionally returns to the SJC English Department as an adjunct faculty member.