What is your role in education and how long have you been doing it for?
Essentially, I’m the principal of the Business School at the Community College of Denver. That means that I’m in charge of over twenty teachers. My day-to-day duties include making sure that we have courses available for our students. We offer over 50 courses during our peak semesters in the fall and spring which typically bring in a thousand students.
We offer a wide range of classes including Introduction to Business, Economics, Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship. I started out my career as a college professor, and I have been at CCD for eight years now.
Why do you think what you do is important?
I think it’s very important because without my job, students would not have classes to take. I have to make sure I have the right instructors available for the courses, I have to conduct quality control, and I have to do all of the administrative paperwork. I don’t have an assistant designated, and I share office manager with about thirteen other Chairs or Principles. The whole workload falls on me, in terms of leadership, for the guidance and vision of the program.
We are here to serve the students, not ourselves. We’re here to see them be successful, no matter what. In Community Colleges, you have a lot of transient students like older learners who may be trying to upgrade their skills in their trade, working parents who may not have the time to get a degree in two years, and some students who are taking only one or two classes because they may be still deciding if they want a degree or not.
We have to be very conscious of our audience and I think that being an African-American male in a dominated Caucasian environment is also important, because I’m representing the first generation minorities students. My parents had no clue about financial aid, and neither did I. Now, I get to help those first-generation students navigate through the higher education environment, and provide onboarding platforms and programs that will make them feel welcome.
We want to make them feel that they belong there, and that they need to pursue greater things than the limitation of their background, or previous environment, that may not have given them access to such tools.
Do you have programs that you are implementing to close the equity gap between minority, first-generation students and the rest of the student body?
Oh, absolutely. We have created a program called R.E.P., which is an acronym for Recruit, Equip, and Place. I felt it was important for us to have an in-house program managed by instructors and even students, where we could make a system that is beneficial to the students, and also hire them to be involved in our work.
For the Recruit aspect of the program, we attend events on campus and set up booths to present who we are. A lot of times students will go online and register for classes without speaking with an advisor first, so they may not even know the proper Degree Pathway that they need to be on. We try to meet them where they’re at, and make them aware of the different Degree Pathways and Certificate Pathways.
The Equip piece involves preparing the students for their next step in education. We have guaranteed transfer degrees that will get students into any state school, and we also have certificate programs that don’t take as long to obtain. It may only take them one or two semesters to get a certificate that’s focused on a certain career pathway. What’s nice about almost every one of those certificates is we call them “stackable.” In other words, you can plug them right into one of our business degrees or economics degrees. We’ve also incorporated workforce training, which is even shorter than the certificates you can get those done and eight weeks or less.
As for Place, or placement, we feel it is important to help students find their path or calling, and be able to earn a living wage while doing it. What really drives me is being able to help a student earn wages while they’re learning in a safe, secure environment that’s inclusive.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love seeing my students graduate. In the end though, you can have a certificate or degree, (and we certainly want them to complete their degrees) but to me you can’t eat a certificate or a degree. I think that it is extremely important for students to be able to work and educate themselves at the same time. They can make a livable wage while they’re going through the process of obtaining a certificate or a degree in their chosen field. I love being able to assist students in doing just that.
What is the best advice you ever received about your impact on education?
I’ll never forget, in my early professional development training, when the speaker got up and basically said, “We trust you based on your experience, based on your story, and based on who you are as a person to be able to deliver the information to the students in the you feel like it will really impact them.” That was a paradigm shift for me.
I took that to mean to do your best to really be authentic with the students. A lot of times with college professors, there is this persona of prestige, or posture that you’re like this untouchable–and intimidating– person. I experienced that at my University, and felt that a lot of my professors were not accessible. They weren’t friendly and they didn’t have mentor hearts. I can count on one hand the ones that I formed a connection with at my four year school.
I didn’t want to come off that way to my students at all. I would say the best advice for anyone wanting to pursue this career pathway is to be yourself.
It is very difficult to become a professor, especially if you’re a minority. I’m only one of five full-time African-American professors at the CCD, and you can guess who the rest are. There’s still a lot of disparities and definitely a huge gap, and our community is not reaching their full potential. I’ll always be committed to stepping away from the institutionalized “way we are supposed to be” and I believe that’s what got me to where I am today. Above all else, be yourself, no matter what roles society places on you.
What advice do you have for future generations?
If you can get an opportunity to take college classes while you’re in high school, then do it. Even if it’s just one college class. Try to take it on a college campus because you don’t know if you’re going to feel comfortable in a college environment until you actually are on one. Taking a tour isn’t enough.
Try to find a mentor who really respects you and wants to see you succeed. That will open up a world of opportunity for you. Also, strive to earn while you learn. I think that’s the smart way to go.
Know your worth, and know that you never have to sell yourself short.
-Written By Talisa Caldwell
As program chair, I coordinate the planning, staffing and evaluation of over 50 business-related college courses. I lead a department of 20+ faculty and staff who are committed to recruiting, equipping, and placing students successfully into the workforce. I seek to level the playing field for 1st generation and minority communities that do not have equal access and opportunities to social mobility.