Anyone who has ever looked under the hood of a car knows that the seemingly simple task of driving from one place to another is actually the result of thousands of complex interactions between different parts, all focused on the singular goal of mechanical propulsion.
A well-functioning community college is no different. The only exception being that what is propelled is not a car, but students.
“A college doesn’t exist because of one person or one classification of employee,” says Kristen Huyck, Director of Public & Governmental Relations, Marketing & Communications at MiraCosta College. “A college is successful because of the roles that every person at every level plays in supporting students.”
This is why a key focus of Guided Pathways has been to involve faculty, administration, students, and classified staff at every level of the research and implementation process. But while the work of award-winning faculty and hard-working administration often get the limelight, the behind-the-scenes role that classified staff play in creating and supporting student success is often overlooked.
“MiraCosta’s Guided Pathways leadership have rooted their work with operational staff who bring a unique perspective from their day-to-day interactions with students,” says Tina Helmstreit, Program Manager for MiraCosta’s Student Success and Support Program (SSSP). “I have been invited in various spaces, on and off campus, to share my insight on operational impact.”
“Classified staff are absolutely critical to any college’s ability to do this,” adds Huyck. “Guided Pathways is a change system. It’s reframing the way we look at students as they enter our doorways and helping us understand that in order to really support student success, we have to be able to meet them where they are, both inside the classroom and outside of it.”
With this in mind, MiraCosta has made a concerted effort to involve classified staff as much as possible in the Guided Pathways implementation process.
Classified staff members serve on MiraCosta’s Coordinating Group, a high-level team that operates like an institutional steering committee for Guided Pathways; they co-chair each of MiraCosta’s Guided Pathways project workgroups, which work to address specific aspects of Guided Pathways implementation; and they share leadership (with a dean and a faculty member) on each of MiraCosta’s Academic and Career Pathways (ACP) workgroups, which are responsible for the design of the educational pathways that form the backbone of Guided Pathways.
“My work is centered in developing a meaningful and informative orientation that ensures equitable access to student support services,” says Helmstreit. “We use orientation as a career exploration exercise, an opportunity to build community, get students engaged in the various facet of the college and a place to introduce students to our Academic and Career Pathways [meta-majors].”
Despite the current state of cooperation among these different groups, like many colleges, MiraCosta initially faced the challenge of creating “buy-in” across the institution. According to Huyck, this was due to the broad and holistic scope of Pathways, for which even the definition was a point of contention.
“At first, faculty would say, ‘Pathways is really about student services’ … and then you had student services saying, ‘Pathways is really about teaching’,” says Huyck. “But it’s all of us. Guided Pathways is a concept that impacts everything we do, from the construction of shared spaces to how we organize our majors.”
MiraCosta needed a way to not only help employees understand this, but to also make them aware that they each had an important role to play in the process.
Huyck’s solution was simple. By adding a short video to the weekly staff newsletter, the College was able to reframe Guided Pathways in terms that staff, faculty and administrators could relate to. Each week, a different faculty member, administrator, or staff person made a video, in which they shared ideas about what Guided Pathways meant to them.
Over the course of a semester, these simple videos helped debunk the idea that Guided Pathways was any one department’s responsibility, and rather a shared vision for supporting and promoting student success that crosses all institutional boundaries.
“I think it breaks down the idea of silos and highlights the importance of working together,” says Huyck. “It’s about knowing what other people do, and why that’s important and building a stronger culture internally.
“When employees have a good rapport with each other, as their connections to each other improve, so does their ability to service students because they’re connected to more than just how their area works, but how the school works as a whole.”
One example of the power of collaboration is the role that MiraCosta’s Academic Information Services department played in developing a high-tech software interface that would provide for real-time updates of academic “major maps.”
“Guided Pathways is all about making it easier for students to get what they’re looking for, so the idea was to create ‘maps’ that would tell students what classes they should take to finish their degree as efficiently as possible,” says Huyck. “But classes and requirements change, and with static PDFs you have version control issues, so we needed a way to make sure these maps could stay current… Now, they’re updated automatically whenever a change is made.”
As MiraCosta looks forward to year two of Guided Pathways implementation, it is excited to have classified staff leading the redesign of its new student orientation, as well. As a student’s first introduction to campus life and culture, Huyck sees orientations as one way to help students more successfully transition from application and enrollment. It is a critical area of focus, considering that, across the state, 70 percent of students who successfully apply to a community college fail to enroll.
“Our four-year counterparts do a really good job of welcoming students, of building connection and community and accountability on day-one,” says Huyck. “We want to be better at doing that, too.”
Like any high-performing car, successful implementation of Guided Pathways is not the result of any one thing. It is not driven by faculty, or administration, or staff, or even students, but by a shared vision and understanding of the critical role that each department, division, office, and person plays in supporting students, and propelling them from where they are to where they want to be.
“Our pillar workgroup committees provide an opportunity for many campus constituent groups to inform the work,” concludes Helmstreit.