Colleges Address Needs of Students

There is a growing need for community colleges across the nation to address the needs of students enrolling in non-traditional fields. Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Illinois has embarked on the arduous task of identifying the needs of students at the institution enrolled in non-traditional fields with a “special programs outreach and retention coordinator” position, funded by the federal Carl Perkins grant.

The Carl Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-332), sets out a new vision of vocational and technical education for the 21st century.

“One of the primary focuses of the Carl Perkins grant is to promote and increase non-traditional enrollment,” Daniel Corr, associate dean of Adult Education and Learning Enhancement at Waubonsee, explains. “In other words, women in a traditionally male dominated field, as well as men in a traditionally female dominated field. With our Carl Perkins funding, we’re making that a real focus on what we do as an institution.”

The “special programs outreach and retention coordinator” will work in a number of different areas in terms of non-traditional enrollment. One, Corr wants to get the word out. He wants to promote all the different opportunities available for women in traditionally male dominated fields, and vice versa. That is part of what this position entails, and it is part of what Waubonsee will do.

Corr notes that the position entails outreach and retention, so once students are enrolled in non-traditional fields, the coordinator ensures that the students succeed. For example, Waubonsee offers support through its Adult Education and Learning Enhancement program.

Corr is also working with the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology at Waubonsee, to determine if they can come up with staff development programs for faculty, to make faculty aware of the special needs and stresses of students in their classes. The coordinator position collaborates with the existing in-house staff development program.

Andrea Saewert, a student enrolled in a non-traditional field at Waubonsee, told Community College Times: “I have always enjoyed my math and science courses. I also enjoyed learning how things work. Having a problem to solve, and then successfully designing and building a solution, is always something that I have enjoyed doing. That’s why I thought electrical engineering would be a good career for me. Plus, there are so many neat toys that you can build with electronics, so why not go into electrical engineering?”

At Waubonsee Saewert took only three electronic classes. She had the same teacher and exactly the same classmates for two of her classes. As such, Saewert got used to the way that class was conducted, and got used to the personalities of her classmates, as they did with her. At first, individuals did not know exactly how to accept Saewert, being the only female in an electronics class.

At first, there was a little anxiety, being the only female in the class. As time went on, Saewert’s classmates accepted her. At first, she was looked upon as an anomaly. However, as other students saw Saewert’s devotion as a serious student, as well as her capabilities, she was accepted as a capable student.

Saewert notes that although she chose electronics as her career, she often feels inadequate, because of her lack of experience. She sometimes feels overwhelmed, because of her lack of knowledge in the field.

Saewert has experienced these anxieties at her current job. However, she reminds herself that she is only at the beginning, and that she has time and the capability to learn everything she needs to know about the field.

Irene Nakigudde, an engineering science student at Camden County College, says she has always been fascinated with electricity and the part it plays in the running of machines. “I decided to learn more about this energy that one cannot see with the naked eye, but whose contribution makes our lives easier,” Nakigudde explains.

“In the first few weeks I sometimes felt anxious thinking about myself and whether I will be able to make it. This has always worked to my advantage, because I have never been one to run away from a difficult situation. This can be frustrating, but that is what makes classes fun, and keeps me awake. As the only female student in some of my classes, I have received a lot of help from classmates.”

Nakigudde will always be thankful to a particular male student who helped her in her Engineering Analysis class. Nakigudde was able to gain back her confidence and to realize she can make it in any class as long as she put in a little effort and kept a positive attitude.

With her course load there is a lot of information to learn, which involves a lot of new technical terms and sometimes, it’s hard to keep up with the course work in each class.

Because of the situation, Nakigudde has to put a lot of time into studying in order to keep up with her G.P.A. This means sacrificing social activities, but it’s always worth it because she gets a lot of satisfaction after conquering a particularly tough problem. Nakigudde’s goal is to complete a successful co-op in her field of study.

Jim Adams, coordinator of the Automotive Technology Department at Camden County College, notes that the institution is always trying to recruit and retain students in non-traditional fields. “We have a General Motors program, a Toyota program, and an apprentice program,” Adams says. “Both the General Motors program and the Toyota program require multiple work experiences for all students in order to graduate. The apprentice program requires one automotive practical work experience in order to graduate.”

Parts of the programs entail interviews. At the interviews, if it happens to be a female student, Adams will talk to that student about what kinds of things to expect having to do with the industry.

He tells them this has been a predominantly male profession, and that they may run into some things that may be unpleasant. Adams also calls the dealers and talks to them about female students, and how they feel about employing a female student technician, and how their workplace would accept such a student.

“I have gone out with the female students to the dealerships and tried to talk to service managers, service directors and general managers about issues relating to female technicians in the workplace,” Adams says. “I also let the students know that instructors’ doors are always open. We had a female student a few years ago that had difficulty in getting a dealer sponsor. She wanted the General Motors program and she was willing to go as far as 35 miles away to work.”

Adams sent her to the dealership, and then went with another staff member at the college to talk to the general manager. Unfortunately, when they went to do that, the general manager and service director had left.

But the female student stuck with it and transferred into Adams’ apprenticeship program, and eventually was able to get a job at a dealership as a technician, and she was successful.

“We have a program called Women In Engineering Technology (WIET) here at Sinclair Community College (in Dayton, Ohio),” says George Sehi, Dean of Engineering & Industrial Technologies. “The program has been in place for several years and I was the one who initiated it. It’s a major initiative. While we recruit female students, we also make it a point to retain them. We have activities for the students throughout the year. For example, one activity we engage in is the Summer Institute. We bring in about 60 students, primarily African American or Caucasian females (students have to be female) to a two-year workshop here at our institution. We provide them with hands-on experience to better understand various disciplines in engineering.”

Another aspect of the program has to do with us providing mentors for female students. The students are assigned to mentors and mentors are usually people from industries. Sehi also does what he calls “Soda and Talk,” in which once a month he meets with female students in a cafeteria setting.

They bring their lunches, and Sehi buys the soda pop, and they chat. Sehi usually spends about $20,000 just on the Summer Institute program. The Board of Trustees and the community have been supportive.

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