Plenty to be thankful for

El Rio 1

My visit to the El Rio Learning Center today reaffirmed that the College provides access to a phenomenally wide spectrum of community members.

I met students in a High School Equivalency preparation mathematics class, where I tried to impress upon them the need for everyone to have a solid grounding in math in order to make sensible financial choices, whether for a family or for a large community college such as PCC. I also met students in our Refugee Education and English Language Acquisition for Adults programs. The refugee-students came to us from Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bhutan and the Congo, among other nations. To a person, they were grateful for the opportunity to restart their lives in the U.S.

Similarly, our ELAA students were both diverse in background and unified in their appreciation for the opportunities PCC affords them. They are learning English to get better jobs, start a business, volunteer in their children’s classrooms, or improve communication with their loved ones; two recently became U.S. citizens.

The key point to remember is that although they come to us from around the globe and from all walks of life, these folks are Pima Community College students. In their desire to improve their circumstances through education, they are no different from anyone else at PCC. I recognize the enormity of the College’s ability and responsibility to affect individual lives, and am thankful that PCC has the opportunity to serve them.


Keeping students informed about healthcare

healthACA blog pic Flipped

Helping students achieve their academic goals is, of course, a priority for Pima Community College. But we also are committed to a holistic approach that addresses students’ needs outside the classroom. Access to quality healthcare is an ongoing concern for many of our students.

CC student Rahsheen Taborn (at far right in photo), a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is grateful for the help PCC advisors and her fellow student-veterans provided as she searched for health insurance. But she knows that not everyone has that type of peer support. The reality is young adults have low health insurance literacy rates and are unfamiliar with basic terminology like co-pay and deductible. [Rahsheen, Downtown Campus’ student body president, is paying it forward by helping organize a healthcare information fair at Downtown in early 2015.]

Ensuring that all PCC students get a more complete understanding of the Affordable Care Act was one of the goals of a gathering Tuesday at Downtown Campus. The College was proud to host the information-sharing session, which was especially timely as the open enrollment period for health insurance began Nov. 15, and runs through Feb. 15, 2015.

The session featured talks by Rahsheen; Diane E. Brown, Executive Director of the Arizona PIRG Education Fund; Cynthia Estrada, outreach supervisor for Pima Community Access Program, which helps walk individuals through the health insurance enrollment process; and Kenneth Shapiro, Interim Regional Director for Department of Health and Human Services. A common emphasis was on getting out the facts, such as the reality that more than 120,000 Arizonans enrolled in health insurance last year, and that 25 percent of those people were ages 18-34 and 24 percent were Latino. PCC’s student demographics align with these statistics, making the College a natural location for disseminating information.

Young people often think of themselves as invincible, but the reality is they need health care coverage because it is essential to their economic security. If a person gets sick or is injured in an accident and doesn’t have health insurance, hospital and doctor bills can quickly exceed that person’s ability to pay. A single visit to the emergency room for an unexpected health situation can run into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Coupled with college loans, living and other expenses, having no coverage can put a young person further into debt.

Contact information regarding the Affordable Care Act can be found on the College’s Health, Wellness and Safety webpage. Everyone knows someone whose life would be changed by affordable, quality health insurance. It is important that PCC, as an institution of higher learning, lets our students, faculty, staff and community know about their legal rights and options regarding healthcare, so that they can make informed decisions.

Congratulations, Aztec Press

I am happy to report that the Aztec Press, our student newspaper, is doing award-winning work. The paper finished second in a nationwide journalism competition for college publications. The Aztec Press finished second in the College Media Association’s Two-Year Less-Than-Weekly Newspaper of the Year category, announced Nov. 1.

In September, the Aztec Press won second place in its size category for “Journalistic Achievement/Community Service” in the Arizona Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest.

Congratulations are in order for the student journalists at the Aztec Press, and its advisor, Cynthia Lancaster. This semester’s student editors include Editor in Chief Andrew Paxton, News Editor David Del Grande, Insight Editor Jamie Verwys, Arts and Entertainment Editor Katie Stewart, Sport Editor Beto Hoyos, Photo Editor Nick Meyers and Multimedia Editor Sebastian Barajas.

I’m proud to see that our student-journalists are making excellent use of their First Amendment rights. I think it’s appropriate to note that the same freedoms that make a robust press possible also are the basis of quality education. Teaching and learning cannot occur without the right to come together to share ideas freely. Free speech truly is the foundation of our society.

HLC update/appreciation


At the end of the Higher Learning Commission’s site visit to PCC last month, team chair Dr. Luis G. Pedraja noted the “Herculean effort” put forth by the College in conducting our Institutional Self-Study. So it was appropriate that Provost Dr. Erica Holmes (above) and I thank the people who did the Self-Study’s heavy lifting – the 300 College employees and community members who served on our Self-Study committees, and in many cases are still working to improve the College.

Several dozen people gathered last week at our 29th Street Coalition Center to hear Dr. Holmes and I share information about the site visit, describe PCC’s ongoing efforts to instill a culture of continuous improvement, and talk about next steps in the process. Most of all, we wanted to express our gratitude to those folks who put in long hours and made considerable personal sacrifices to make the Self-Study such a powerful instrument for improving the College.

PCC has made great progress installing new processes and structures to address the concerns of the HLC. However, as the Self Study process has been compressed into an 18-month time frame (the typical Self Study takes two to three years), it’s difficult for us to demonstrate that our changes are bearing fruit.

So our work to improve PCC continues even after submission of the Self Study Report and the visit of the HLC evaluation team. As Dr. Holmes noted, we have formed nine Fast Action Teams addressing a variety of topics. The teams are working quickly but deliberately to strengthen our compliance with HLC standards.

PCC soon will receive the report with the evaluation team’s findings. In November, PCC will submit corrections to any errors of fact such as erroneous timelines or data. We also will submit an institutional response report describing our ongoing reaccreditation efforts.

On December 9, I and four other PCC leaders will be in Chicago to take part in a final round of discussions during a hearing of the HLC’s Institutional Actions Council. Dr. Pedraja also will attend the meeting.

On December 11, Governing Board Chair David Longoria and I will lead an information session for the College community and the public regarding our impressions of the meeting with the HLC.

By the end of February the HLC Board will make its determination, and we should be notified of our status in early March.

As I have said in the past, I told the audience at our 29th Street Center that I am optimistic we will be taken off probation. Also, I said we likely will be under close monitoring by the HLC for remainder of the decade. And I said that is a good thing. Of course, PCC must meet HLC standards. But we need to aim higher – our goal should be to be one of the best community colleges in the nation. As long as we keep our focus on meeting the needs and expectations of our diverse students and community, we can succeed in a truly Herculean goal – becoming a premier community college.

Connecting with manufacturing

Pima Community College has been at the center of several recent events aimed at building our relationships to the manufacturing sector of the economy. Here is a look at some of the ways PCC has been involved in connecting with businesses and development groups for the benefit of our students and the community:

ribbonTrane outside

  • PCC hosted the Acceleration Now! Tour at Downtown Campus on Oct. 3. The event was sponsored by Trane, which makes climate control solutions for homes and businesses. The tour is a 70-city trade show featuring the latest in heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Originally, Tucson was not a tour destination, but Vice Chancellor of Facilities Bill Ward prevailed on Trane to make a stop here. The result was the tour’s best-attended event so far, as engineers, architects and business leaders joined PCC staff, administrators and faculty in an endeavor whose goals included raising the level of technical education for students and developing the most effective workforce of tomorrow. Hats off to PCC’s team that planned the event for a first-class operation.
  • In conjunction with the Acceleration Now! Tour stop, the College hosted a roundtable discussion featuring leaders of the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), which connects businesses and schools to develop and sustain industry-recognized portable certifications in industries ranging from transportation to energy to aviation. [I’m proud to serve on NC3’s Board of Directors.] I moderated a discussion between PCC faculty and administrators and representatives of Trane, manufacturer W.W. Grainger and other companies. NC3 Executive Director Roger Tadajewski noted that 10,000 people retire every day in the U.S., and pointed out that in HVAC, for example, the average age of a technician is 55. “Where are we going to get the talent?” Roger asked, to fill the skills gaps that are widening in many occupations.
  • As part of the Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partnership’s Manufacturing Day event in Tucson, Downtown Campus hosted a tour of its Machine Tool Technology facilities and its Veterans Center. Attending the tour was Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute, the non-profit affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers. [I’m also proud to be a founding member of the education council of the Manufacturing Institute.] Veterans were the focus of the day’s activities. In a gathering at the Kino Veterans Center, three PCC student-veterans, ranging in age from their 20s to 68, shared how a PCC technical education has helped them sharpen their skills, find jobs or inspire them to start their own company.

Manufacturing employs 155,000 people in Arizona and as Jennifer said last week, the sector is the lifeblood of towns across the U.S. PCC is committed to providing its students with the skills and opportunities to succeed in in this essential economic sector, and to support a workforce that can drive innovation and prosperity in our community.

Agreement with Goodwill

Goodwill, cropped

Today I had the honor of signing an agreement to enhance existing initiatives with a valued community partner, Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona (GISA). The five-year Memorandum of Understanding will help further realize an important aspect of our organizations’ missions: to provide people with the skills to find meaningful employment and move our community forward.

In signing the agreement, PCC becomes part of the nationwide Community College Career Collaboration (C4). Since 2009, Goodwill and the nation’s community colleges, through the American Association of Community Colleges, have been partnering to improve college- and career-readiness among Goodwill employees and the community.

It’s a natural fit. Goodwill, through its retail stores and Job Connection Centers, is a community magnet for people who are seeking to restart their education after what might be years out of school. PCC has the expertise to guide non-traditional students through the re-entry process.

One such student is Monica Terrill (pictured above), who took a College Readiness class at Goodwill. Monica is a non-traditional student who had been out high school for a while. At first the idea of college was scary. But now she is taking seven credits at PCC in Writing and Psychology. She wants to get an Associate Degree for transfer in Liberal Arts and eventually, a bachelor’s degree.

Monica’s success becomes possible when passionate, capable folks collaborate. GISA Interim President Liz Gulick and East Campus Vice President for Student Development Nancee Sorenson worked together to cement the PCC-GISA connection into a reality.

Adrian Smith, East Campus Student Service Advanced Specialist, deserves recognition for teaching the first College Readiness classes earlier this year to community members and Goodwill employees. Adrian had the answers regarding admission, registration, how credits work, placement, financial aid and other topics. We hope to expand the type of help Adrian provided students such as Monica so many more people in our community can take the first steps on a fruitful education journey.

Connecting with K-12

Metro Tucson’s district school superintendents came to PCC last week for our second annual luncheon, which brings together local K-12 leadership, PCC campus presidents and key College administrators. We shared information about PCC initiatives that affect our partners in the education pipeline, and to discuss ways to connect in order to build clearer pathways to student success, something our external constituents expect and deserve.

Group 1 MM and LL

As at last year’s inaugural event, there was a lot to talk about. Provost Dr. Erica Holmes shared PCC’s progress in redesigning developmental education, based on the bedrock principle of open access. “We meet students where they are,” Dr. Holmes said, and “take them where they want to go academically.”

We are redesigning our developmental Reading, Writing and Mathematics curricula to align them with best practices, and are assessing the impact of an innovative Math Emporium pilot program. Of special interest is a plan to work closely with Adult Education to move students into college-level coursework as quickly and effectively as possible.

A bonus for everyone was a visit by Mark Mitsui, Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, who graciously drove from an event in Phoenix to provide an update on federal initiatives to align our education system to meet college- and career-readiness standards. Mark told us, “You are doing hard work, but good work, in creating important seamless pathways” between K-12 and postsecondary education.

The meeting also included a presentation by Dr. Nic Richmond, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Planning and Institutional Research who presented data regarding the high schools that incoming PCC students have graduated from. Executive Director of Enrollment Management Dr. Heather Tilson described PCC’s re-energized outreach efforts, which are an important part of our comprehensive Enrollment Management initiative. Vice Provost Dr. Mary Ann Martinez Sanchez discussed potential alternatives to PCC assessment to determine student placement, such as examining high school transcripts or scores on the ACT, and described our efforts to expand dual enrollment.

The superintendents astutely emphasized the need for K-12 systems and PCC to present clear, unified messages to stakeholders, be they high school students and faculty regarding placement standards, or state government decision-makers as we explore ways to remove regulatory obstacles to dual enrollment expansion.

Cohesive, focused collaborations can pay big dividends – PCC’s recent $2.5 million grant from the federal government to train adults for occupational careers is tangible proof of that. By strengthening the dialogue with our partners in K-12, we can unearth ways to work together for the benefit of students and the community.