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A Student Panel Helps Faculty and Staff Experience College As They Do

When Ishmail Ebo’s father passed away of cancer in Fall Semester 2015, he did something remarkable: he attended class at Community College of Philadelphia that same day.

“It’s what my dad would have wanted,” Ebo said.

His desire to make his father proud, coupled with the compassionate support received from professors and instructors, kept him moving forward in his studies during a period of profound grief.

During the kickoff of Professional Development Week, Community College of Philadelphia decided to ask students about their experiences at the College—the good and the bad. Student experience is a frequent topic of conversation as the staff works to assess learning, analyze data, and identify the type of supports and interventions students need to reach their goals.

The students revealed that their academic journeys often are affected by life and work challenges, but when they receive well-timed support and encouragement from faculty and staff, they are more likely to stay in College and reach their goals.

“People care. I see them as family,” student Michael Luna said.  “College has given me driveand [sic] ambition.”

The panelists also discussed the importance of the College’s wide-ranging network of support services, which includes free tutoring and a pantry that offers snacks to hungry students. In addition, the Single Stop office helps students identify federal and state benefits they can apply for, and assists with tax preparation and filing, health care enrollment, legal counselingand more.

Mark Miller, a 19-year-old freshman at the College, said he was living in and out of homeless shelters before he enrolled. He has found a safe haven as well as vital supports – both personally and academically. 

“It was hard getting up every day,” Miller said. “I knew at the end of the tunnel there was light. I’m here and excelling, and it’s all because of this College.”

Several students offered ways to improve the college experience such as: better coordinationand messaging between departments, and more strategies to ease the anxiety associated with the transition to college..

Monica McGrath said when she first enrolled, she didn’t know how to find information she needed or where to go for help. Selecting the right courses and understanding concepts like dual admissions were new to her and they heightened her anxiety.

Through Guided Pathways, a new initiative designed to increase student retention and completion, the College is enhancing the student experience. While faculty still assist with drop-in advising, the College now employs full-time advisors who are assigned to individual students and assist with walk-in advising requests. Data shows this proactive approach appears to be increasing the rate of students who persist from semester to semester. Additionally, other success initiatives recently have been implemented, such as the new first-year experience courses, which introduce students to strategies and tools they need to be successful.

“Ultimately, the goal is to create a quicker, more efficient pathway to student completion and student success,” said Dr. Donald Guy Generals, president of the College.

The great professors make the biggest difference, according to the students. “I think there are some teachers who do fall short, but there are also those who are role models,” McGrath said.

She described standout faculty as the ones who go beyond classwork to address the urgent needs of students, such as the professor who shared what a class schedule might look like after McGrath’s class asked for help.

Caring faculty and supportive mentors who work in programs such as the Center for Male Engagement make the journey memorable, Ebo said.

“It’s the professors who engage with students, ask questions and respond to challenges in life that make you want to come to class each day. Those are the ones you remember,” said Ebo. “My experience has been life changing.”