Empowering Students and Other Lessons for Academic Triumph

Library Resources | March 30, 2016

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As the digital revolution has swept through higher education, it has opened up new ways for economically disadvantaged or otherwise underserved students to learn and thrive academically. Perhaps nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the community college sector. LearningExpress recently hosted the “Recipe for Academic Triumph: Steps to Empower Students” webinar with two staffers from Pueblo Community College (PCC), which serves about 7,500 students across four campuses in southern Colorado. Ross Barnhart is the Director of PCC’s Learning Center on the main campus in Pueblo, Colo., a multi-use space offering a variety of student services. Christina McGrath is PCC’s Library Director, working to deliver digital and physical resources to all students. What follow are some highlights from our conversation:

What are some of the specific needs of PCC students?
Ross Barnhart: About 63 percent of our students qualify for federal financial aid and about 45 percent live below the poverty line. They come with very diverse needs — we have some problems with computer literacy with some students, for example, so online learning can be a challenge to them.

Given your demographics, do you feel a special responsibility to ensure students are maximizing their time and money?
Christina McGrath: One of the things that stays with me was helping a student learn how to use the databases who, before he left, said, “People like you are why people like me stay in school.” That’s so empowering as a librarian, as an educator. That’s the kind of stuff that makes it really easy to come to work every day and make sure students are aware that we have support systems for them.

Who uses the PCC Learning Center, and for what?
RB: In a busy month, we get up to 30,000 people coming through our doors. We offer access to technology, printing, wireless access to computers, so students can grab a laptop and sit wherever they want. We also provide free coffee and also a student food pantry.

How does the Learning Center differ from an academic library?
RB: We have learning equipment, science models, 3-D printer, and various tools students can use. Last year we provided about 50,000 hours of student tutoring (interestingly enough, we also go through about 50,000 cups of coffee a year…). It ends up being a little bit of a student center.

CM: We both love that we have these two learning environments to offer our students, two distinct and distinctly different learning spaces. The PCC Library has branded ourselves as a quiet space, which is such a benefit because people learn differently. Some people really need that quiet space and some people thrive in a little busier hubbub of activity.

How are you able to serve students effectively across all four campuses?
CM: The southwest portion of the state, where two of our campuses are, doesn’t have a physical library. Our main library is on the main campus and it’s big and beautiful, but our online resources are just as important, and they are important to all of our students because we have so many online learners. We are, as are all libraries, all about equal access to information.

Outside of library access, how do you use new technology to help your students?
RB: About 70 percent of our students need some form of remediation, so we use LearningExpress Library to help them prepare for placement and assessment. We also have online tutorials and supplemental resources.

How do you prepare your students for graduation and the working world?
RB: We have a career center here and use LearningExpress’ Job & Career Accelerator to explore different options for careers, job outlooks, Department of Labor data, assessments to help figure out aptitudes, areas they might be interested in. It’s a great resource to stay focused on students’ end goals: Where do they hope to end up, what do they hope to get out of this?

If you could share one piece of advice with other community colleges about PCC’s digital technology delivery, what would you tell them?
CM: The library is not on an island out there by ourselves and neither is the Learning Center. It takes all of us as a college community to empower students and to help them move toward their goals — it takes open minds and we all have to be on the same page. Today’s academic libraries are definitely more versatile, more multifaceted than we’ve ever been.

New technologies are rapidly transforming the way in which students learn at every academic level, allowing traditionally underserved students, including the more than 12 million enrolled in community college nationwide, access to the resources they need to compete and succeed in the classroom and beyond. Ultimately, this technology needs the dedication of professionals like Ross and Christina who work to tailor resources and delivery strategies to the needs of every student.

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