Tag Archives: graduation

Graduation season

May is the best month of the year at Pima Community College, because that is when we celebrate the achievements of our students. And yes, it takes most of a month to recognize all of their amazing accomplishments.

I have been fortunate to participate in several of the ceremonies. On May 5, I attended a celebration of the accomplishments of students in our Honors Program. The students balance meeting the program’s rigorous academic requirements with work and family life. As part of the event, students displayed and explained the results of their semester-long research projects.

On May 6, I spoke at Multicultural Convocation, our annual celebration of diversity and inclusion. The stories of grit and determination were inspiring shared by the students were inspiring.  I asked the students to consider the words of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, to remind them about family and heritage: “It is important for all of us to appreciate where we come from and how that history has really shaped us in ways that we might not understand.”

For blogOn May 12, we celebrated the achievements of our students in Adult Basic Education for College & Career (ABECC) at a High School Equivalency Diploma graduation. The celebration had to be moved to a bigger venue because of the large number of graduates, a sure sign that ABECC is doing it right in fostering student success.

The month also included a candlelight pinning ceremony for Registered Nurses in our Nursing Program. Tonight and next week we will honor the graduates of our Paramedic, Law Enforcement and Fire Academy programs.

Last night, of course, was the main event, Graduation 2016. More than 750 graduates, accompanied by their friends and loved ones, received diplomas and certificates. It was an amazing night, thanks to the hard work of our faculty and staff.

I closed my graduation remarks with a quote, variously attributed to Jesse Jackson and Muhammad Ali: “If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, you can achieve it.” PCC students are achieving great things, and we are proud of their accomplishments.

[Commencement produced countless memorable images. You can find a few in this short video.]

Graduation 2015

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A quick note about PCC graduation May 21. Cheered on by thousands of family and friends, approximately 900 graduates received degrees and certificates during an amazing ceremony at the Tucson Convention Center. There were many highlights, including an inspirational speech from graduate Kenneth Lee, and a video featuring images from the past academic year. All in all, it was a great night to be a member of the Pima family, thanks to PCC employees who worked for months to ensure a memorable commencement.

Graduation 2014

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I’ve had the honor of serving as the chancellor of Pima Community College for 325 days. A lot has happened since last July 1, but last night’s graduation was, without question, the high point.

This was my first graduation ceremony at PCC, and what a truly spectacular event it was. For two amazing hours, College employees shared an arena with the family and friends of our students to celebrate academic achievement. The Tucson Convention Center is a big place, but it was filled to the rafters last night with a palpable sense of pride and accomplishment.

I made a point to personally congratulate as many of our graduates as possible. Hearing their stories and sharing their triumphs was inspirational – it was a vivid reminder of how education can transform a person’s life. This very point was echoed in the thoughtful remarks of our commencement speaker, Athanasia Chalkiopoulos.

Last night’s graduation ceremony also was important for another reason: it confirms the positive impact that our faculty and staff has on our community. If a student’s educational journey is like scaling a mountain, we are the guides who help students reach the summit.

Our commencement closed with the screening of a video tribute to the Class of 2014, created by our Center for Learning Technology team, which beautifully captured the diversity and promise of PCC. I encourage you to watch it and check out the photos of one of our volunteers, Tony Arroyo.

Lastly, I must extend a heartfelt thank you to Christy Yebra and the Graduation Committee for their meticulous attention to detail. They transformed the TCC into an epicenter of Aztec pride. Everyone involved – the degree checkers, interpreters, readers, ushers and the men and women who staffed the registration desk – did a tremendous job. Thank you all.

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The state of Hispanic education

Increasingly, any discussion of higher education quickly focuses on the state of Hispanic higher ed. Hispanics’ rapid attainment of educational goals is altering the trajectory of the conversation. The high school dropout rate among Hispanics continues to fall, Hispanic enrollment in college has increased for three straight years and, for the first time, a greater share of Hispanic recent high school graduates are enrolled in college than whites, according to a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report.

It was against this backdrop that earlier this week I joined Dr. H.T. Sanchez, superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, and Kasey Urquidez, Associate Vice President of The University of Arizona, in an illuminating panel discussion (covered by local media)  about the demographic, technological and institutional trends faced by our three institutions regarding Hispanic education. More than 100 educators, business owners and members of the community attended the event, ably hosted by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. We all reported improvements successes in enrollment and retention, acknowledged the ongoing substantial challenge of improving graduation rates, and recognized the need to adapt our systems to new cultural realities.

Clearly, one of the keys is better synchronization of our institutions for our students’ benefit. PCC’s Upward Bound and Talent Search programs, designed to plant the seed of college-going in low-income high school students in historically underserved populations, can be expanded. PCC and area school districts are working to conduct earlier assessments in high schools to spot academic areas in which students can improve. We want to leverage dual enrollment opportunities, so that high school students can graduate with college credits that give them a head start on a career or a college degree. Sharing of facilities also is a possibility. And PCC needs to align its curriculum and student-support resources with UA to smooth the pathways to a bachelor’s degree.

For PCC, the challenge is to ingrain the successful strategies of individual programs into our institution as a whole. We need to build upon the lessons learned from such programs as Adelante, which improved retention among Hispanic males, and in our student-centered math emporiums, which combine technology and tutoring to a allow students to rapidly proceed through schoolwork.

Rapid technological change is driving all of our institutions to provide education that readies students for the jobs of the future, two-thirds of which will require postsecondary training. That point was driven home to me on a recent cab ride. The cab driver pointed out the cameras, computers and other high-tech devices in his vehicle, then informed me he had to receive special classroom training in their proper use. When cabbies are going back to school to stay up-to-date in their field, it speaks volumes about the need for workforce training if the U.S. is to remain competitive economically.

H.T., Kasey and I all touched on the importance of government to provide investment that keeps our state competitive. Tucson and Arizona will need an educated workforce if it is to compete in the 21st century. Decision-makers need to recognize that public education is a public good. I should note that the state’s allocation in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget of $600,000 to PCC for STEM funding is a modest but welcome step in the right direction.

Individually, education helps people advance into good-paying jobs and careers. Collectively, it fuels an economic engine that leads to greater prosperity and stability for us all. Everyone wins.

Keeping kids in school

At every level of our educational ecosystem, considerable time and effort is devoted to addressing one of the most pressing problems facing our community: keeping kids in school. This is as it should be. High school completion is a fundamental prerequisite for a better life. Study after study has shown us that the economic and societal consequences of dropping out of high school are profound.

We know that dropouts are more likely to be unemployed than students who stick to their education and get a degree. We know dropouts earn less money and their chances of moving up the economic ladder are dramatically limited. We know they’re more likely to rely on public assistance, more likely to be single parents and make up a disproportionate percentage of our nation’s prison inmate population.

At Pima, we’re doing our part to address this issue through our nationally recognized Adult Education and GED programs. The students who come to us to realize their educational dreams come from all walks of life and all age groups. One of our recent GED grads had been out of school for 36 years!

Adult Ed will be front and center tomorrow when U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Brenda Dann-Messier visits our El Pueblo Liberty Adult Learning Center. I’ll have more to say on this topic later this week.

But all of us can do more to stem the tide of students who decide not to stay in school. I was honored Monday to participate in the launch of the second phase of a Sunnyside Unified School District program aimed at helping high school dropouts get their diploma. GradLink2 will serve students between 17 and 21 years old and, unlike the first version of the program, will not have an AIMs or credit requirement.

The goal is to make it easy for students to come back to school and get their degree. Pima is proud to be among GradLInk2’s sponsors and I applaud Sunnyside Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo and TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez for working together to give our kids the opportunities they need to get ahead.

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, about 7,000 students drop out every school day and approximately 1.3 million students fail to graduate from high school every year. Those are astounding numbers. Addressing this problem in a meaningful way must be a priority for all of us and it must be a community effort.