Students attend pop-up event

South Central Coast Guided Pathways Regional Coordinators Boglarka Kiss and Bernard Gibson are working with colleges as they take Guided Pathways design and implementation directly to students through pop-up events and other so-called ‘e-hacks’ – an approach that helps ensure large-scale and equitable student input.

“There is a need for a more robust engagement of students and amplification of their voices in the Guided Pathways design process,” Gibson said. “Even if you have 20 or 30 students involved in the process, the opportunity to engage more students exists. Twenty or 30 students cannot possibly represent the thoughts and viewpoints of 20,000 or 30,000 of their peers.”

Modeled after temporary pop-up retail spaces that can be often found in shopping malls, pop-ups in the eight-college South Central Coast Region feature internet-based surveys that attract a large cross-section of students. By scheduling pop-ups in conjunction with well-attended college events, no population is being left out and all populations are taking part.

Pop-ups are deployed at informational events in heavily trafficked areas for optimal use, and data is collected digitally in real time thanks to a reduced-question survey via QR code and the software app. Pop-ups are co-designed and delivered by Guided Pathways student leads.

“We feel this element of the pop-up design is important, as when the student leads are engaged, it allows them to work as partners with staff and as leads at the events, which are in ‘natural’ environments for students,” said Kiss.

The first pop-up was held Oct. 18, 2019 at Cuesta College Promise Day, an annual recruitment fair that attracted nearly 800 high school seniors. A second pop-up was held Nov. 26 at Antelope Valley College during a “Friendsgiving” celebration that included a free Thanksgiving meal, games, movies and more. The most recent pop-up was held Jan. 6 during Welcome Back Day at Ventura College. In all, the trio of pop-ups yielded valuable feedback from more than 630 students, including data on obstacles encountered in pursuing a college degree, opinions on math and English course placements, factors that provide for a sense of belonging on campus and opinions on how to best reach students with information about college events and deadlines.

Thanks to convenience and brevity, more than 70 students took part in the initial pop-up event in less than an hour. Students who completed the survey got some type of swag.

Early takeaways in the South Central Coast Region include a desire among future students for a series of in-person events focused on career pathways that include social time with current staff and students, a desire for faculty to empathize with students’ non-academic responsibilities and a preference for face-to-face engagements over various digital platform options.

The pop-ups are part of a larger strategy that employ a variety of equity hacks – or e-hacks – to ensure comprehensive student input drives Guided Pathways design and implementation. Gibson and Kiss described hacks as small, clever experiments that help redesign institutional culture. Equity hacks ensure all students and staff operate as collaborators in authentic environments.

“We designed e-hacks with equity and scalability in mind, hoping to enhance student success through Guided Pathways,” said both Gibson and Kiss. “With Guided Pathways and a focus on the redesign of community colleges, equity hacks are vital in ensuring student participation includes those who may otherwise be overlooked.”

Other e-hacks can include online surveys, observing student behavior in the classroom or taking part in other student-facing processes that allow for prompt in-depth discussions. Regardless of what avenues are employed, direction and decision-making must be driven by equity and the student voice gathered through e-hacks.

To date, more than 775 students across three South Central Coast community colleges have had their voices included as a result of being collaborative thought-partners in this process.

Information about how Cuesta College, Antelope Valley College and Ventura College used e-hacks and pop-ups may be found at the region’s South Central Coast Guided Pathways Compass YouTube channel.

This spring, Gibson and Kiss will have an opportunity to discuss their work on a national stage. Their presentation “Scalable Equitable Student Engagement: No Longer and Enigma in Institutional Redesign” was accepted for the 33rd annual National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) to be held May 26-30, 2020 in New York City.

The NCORE conference series is described by the University of Virginia as “the leading and most comprehensive national forum on issues of race and ethnicity in American higher education. The conferences focus on creating and sustaining comprehensive institutional change to improve racial and ethnic relations on campus and to expand opportunities for educational access and success by culturally diverse, traditionally underrepresented populations.”


Gibson and Kiss say they are humbled to receive a nod from such a high-profile organization and look forward to planning and delivering their presentation, which will  feature the real stars of their work: students and California community colleges.