Students attend conference with Guided Pathway staff

Anyone wondering how classified professionals can help guide a student on a pathway to graduation may want to look at College of the Desert’s 2019 commencement speaker Shane Tate, who transferred to Cal State Fullerton this past fall. Tate was living out of his car and sleeping at a College of the Desert parking lot, according to CSEA 407 President Keith Prouty, when an on-campus security officer found him. Financial aid specialists and others learned of his predicament and connected him with food pantries, a transitional living program for homeless youth, an internship with The Desert Sun newspaper and more.

Tate’s story underscores why classified professionals have a vital role to play in re-designing the college using a guided pathways framework – also referred to as a student-centered mindset.

“From the time they call an office to the time they walk across the stage at graduation, our students are dealing with groundskeepers, custodians, security officers, EOPS and others on a daily basis, and our classified staff has to know things like the book loan program is in the Applied Sciences Building or where they can get help with homeless services,” Prouty said.

The message is resonating with classified professionals throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties who are becoming intimately involved with guided pathways in the Inland Empire/Desert Region. Approximately 30 took part in an inaugural, December 19 Classified Ambassadors/Guided Pathways convening at Riverside City College, and a second convening is set for March.

“What’s different about this effort is that we are not just inviting classified professionals to the table, we are saving them a seat and saying they belong here. And they are engaging, even owning, their role in guided pathways locally and regionally,” said Guided Pathways Regional Co-Coordinator Leslie Valmonte.

“The work our classified professionals are doing is truly impacting students’ lives,” said Valmonte’s co-coordinator partner, Angelica Ibarra.

Riverside City College Outreach Specialist Akia Marshall embodies the effort. She serves as a classified representative on the Region 9 Guided Pathways Task Force, which recently expanded to include classified staff and students. “It’s a different experience as a classified professional to be in the room with chancellors, presidents and deans,” Marshall said. “Being part of the conversation is important.”

At the college level, Professional Development Coordinator Natalie Halsell said classified staff are asked on an annual survey how well they understand their role in the guided pathways redesign, and the college’s new-employee onboarding process includes sessions on the importance of classified professionals in all four pillars of Guided Pathways.

“By making the four pillars more relatable to our classified professionals, we can see a shift in attitudes and an understanding of the important role we play in supporting the learning that happens,” Halsell said.

Prouty, at College of the Desert, agreed. The college’s vice president of Student Services has attended a recent CSEA chapter meeting where he discussed how classified professionals can become more involved. In addition, the Student Services division will be holding workshops so that all classified employees are more knowledgeable about all support services when encountering students looking for answers. “We’re trying to get everybody to know what’s going on,” Prouty said.

“Classified employees are an untapped resource at too many colleges,” Ibarra said. “Guided Pathways is about transforming the entire campus and college experience, and everyone plays a critical role in the process. We are planting the seeds for what we see as college-wide ownership in the redesign process.”