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Transcript- Episode 100: How To Better Support Students Where They Are With Dr. Brenda Ivelisse Vice President of Student Services at PCC Episode 100

Aug 15, 2023


00:00:00 Brenda

If we're in tune on what's happening at the national level, we need to flip that narrative. We will no longer be an institution if we continue to say, you adapt to us. We need to adapt to the student. And so, what I'm seeing at the local and state and national level is that we're not tapping into the industry.

00:00:16 Brenda

We're not asking our big partners like, "What do you need?" We're not asking our community, "Do you need upskilling? When and where do you need these classes? What degrees are valuable now?" Even degrees, I will say it; is that the ultimate, it may not be anymore.

00:00:39 Christina

The workforce landscape is rapidly changing, and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education.

00:00:51 Christina

But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?

00:01:02 Salvatrice

Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College, and host of this podcast.

00:01:10 Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer of this podcast.

00:01:13 Salvatrice

And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals; more internships and PCC students in the workforce.

00:01:27 Salvatrice

We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning, and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us.

00:01:42 Christina

We believe change happens when we work together, and it all starts with having a conversation, I'm Christina Barsi.

00:01:49 Salvatrice

And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.

00:01:56 Salvatrice

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast, I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. Today, we will learn more about our Pasadena City College campus, focusing on the different areas of student services on our campus.

00:02:07 Salvatrice

We will discuss what the center does for our students, and how it helps them succeed and what other opportunities we should be providing to our students. With that said, I'd be delighted to welcome Dr. Brenda Ivelisse, Assistant Superintendent, Vice President of Student Services at Pasadena City College.

00:02:25 Salvatrice

Dr. Ivelisse, is a transformative international educator with over 20 plus years of experience within higher education with leadership roles at both community college and university levels, in both public and private sectors.

00:02:41 Salvatrice

She's an experienced practitioner in higher education with an extensive background of progressive, senior leadership experience who values authentic leadership, collaboration, student success, and access, diversity, equity, inclusion, and of course, the passion for learning.

00:03:01 Salvatrice

We are super excited to have you here with us today, Dr. Ivelisse, thank you for joining us. How are you?

00:03:08 Brenda

Good. How are you? Thank you so much.

00:03:10 Salvatrice

Good, good, good, thank you for making the time. I know that we've had some scheduling back and forth and listen, you've hit the ground running since arriving here at PCC. It doesn't go unrecognized. We totally, totally appreciate it and thank you for making the time this morning. And with that, I mean, do you mind if I just get right in and ask the question?

00:03:31 Brenda

Yeah, let's dive in.

00:03:33 Salvatrice

Alright, I have the privilege of knowing a little bit about your background. So, for our listeners, I want them to know that what I've learned from you is that your family has a legacy in education, including yourself. And so, could you please share a little bit about that experience and what led you to this point?

00:03:50 Brenda

I am always honored to say that I am the 14th educator in my family, fourth generation.

00:03:56 Salvatrice

That's amazing.

00:03:57 Brenda

It's amazing, I grew up in the classroom. Literally, Abuela had me in a box when I was that little. I was in a box and she had toys and I clearly remember. And so, I always find it a privilege because I have an opportunity to talk about what's important to our community, to our students, and have my family really understand and support that, and challenge me too.

00:04:19 Brenda

It's like, "What are you going to do with that? Have you thought about this?" And so, it's really been an exciting time. I've been in higher education 25 years and just have had a lot of support from folks, tapped into some amazing mentorship relationships that have supported me beyond my family.

00:04:39 Brenda

But education, I knew since I was chiquitita, very little, that I was going to be in the classroom, I was going to be in education. And actually, that's how I introduced myself as an educator. I rarely say my title, I just typically say, "Hey, I'm an educator," because that's what we do. And that's actually my philosophy when it comes to student services.

00:04:58 Brenda

And how it is here at Pasadena City College, but really how it should be across the nation when it comes to education and student affairs, is that we're a learning institution, we should be always holistic. We should always put the student at the front, and that we're educators, we always have an opportunity to teach students.

00:05:17 Brenda

Whether it's how to do a program, whether it's conflict mediation, whether it's determining, figuring out their career and path, whether it's life choices in general. That's the power of student services and really the power, I would say, of higher education, and I really truly believe that.

00:05:36 Salvatrice

Excellent. Speaking of across the nation, I found out a little bit of information that I did not know about you, and it's amazing and I have to share it. You were chosen as one of 21 women, throughout the United States for outstanding leadership and community service by the National Hispana Leadership Institute.

00:05:59 Brenda

Institute, yeah.

00:05:59 Salvatrice

Oh my gosh, like hello, that's so amazing.

00:06:03 Brenda

Yeah. So, I was nominated and selected out of 21 Latinas. That cohort of women, can you believe we're still connected?

00:06:12 Salvatrice

That's beautiful.

00:06:13 Brenda

It's been several years and we are constantly checking in with each other. I mean, it's a constant, it's a very uplifting group. Everywhere from college presidents to CEOs, business leaders, psychiatrists, folks that work in Washington, D.C. and have a lot of roles that impact actually our educational system, which is very exciting to have that partnership and influence, and also understanding of how things work.

00:06:40 Salvatrice

For sure. And in your experience with that, can you share with us a little bit about the value that building community has in connection with the effort of breaking barriers and increasing equity?

00:06:53 Brenda

No one has the right solution for everything. And I truly believe bringing people to the table means ... and that is how I really value diversity and view it, is that who's missing? Who needs to be here, who can aid and develop in that community?

00:07:10 Brenda

And when I say that, is when we talk about community, we are really talking about each other and the core of what drives change. And I think as educators, as agents of change, we have that opportunity to really uplift. And with that, that is how equity inclusion and really transformation occurs individually, and then as a community in general.

00:07:35 Brenda

And so, I think if we have that perspective of how we're all interconnected, and that if we tap into the community, we will have those diverse ideas, perspective, experiences, lived experiences that bring value to the conversation around how do we increase equity, how do we close the challenges that we have ahead of us, and are currently living. That's the way to do it, is bringing in folks and empowering folks to tap into their voice.

00:08:07 Salvatrice

For sure. How are those values being translated in your role here at PCC? Some of those values that you just spoke about, how is that resonating or how is it landing here at PCC as you lead the division?

00:08:20 Brenda

Folks are excited to come together. And one of the things I'm really clear about is I focus on the role and kuleana, which is a Hawaiian word for responsibility, of an individual.

00:08:33 Brenda

So, when I talk about who's missing, who should be at the table when we're making decisions at the college or working on projects, it really is about not around classification or title. It's really around who is interacting with the student or can get the work done, has the skills, has the lived experience, all those things.

00:08:52 Brenda

And so, I challenge people to think outside the box. I challenge people to think through as like, who are partners? Who do you work with? What could they bring? And then welcome the person in as part of that conversation. Truly, not just as a, "We need your ideas, we need your thoughts, thank you and have a great day," but really about, let's involve you.

00:09:10 Brenda

And I think creating ownership and spreading out who's involved in the conversation, who has ownership of it - you mentioned authentic leadership, that's what I mean when I talk about authentic leadership, is it doesn't have to come to one person. It really shouldn't be. It really needs that experience, that ability to lead, really everyone has. And so, there's tying the ebbs and flows in that.

00:09:39 Brenda

And so, I've just learned to step back when I need to uplift, push if I have to, encourage, whatever I need to do to get folks to tap into what they know. And what I found here at PCC is that ... and other institutions as well, is that folks are shy, or they've been told they don't bring value or don't have a voice or don't have a place, I change that up.

00:10:04 Salvatrice


00:10:05 Brenda

I'm like why not? Like why? And so, then I also encourage folks to communicate across each other. I'm very much on sharing information. The information I ask for, gather, all that is shared out. Because again, I'm going to see it through one perspective, but I need other folks to tune into and tap in and tell me what they see. And together, we make decisions. Together, we can change the campus and really the college and the community that we serve.

00:10:33 Salvatrice

And with that, what are you envisioning student services to look like, to experience? What is the vision for your division? You've had a moment here really - I mean, how long has it been? Like a few months?

00:10:47 Brenda

A few months.

00:10:49 Salvatrice

Like three?

00:10:51 Brenda

It's been three months. You know what I envision is developing support systems. Really clearing up those communication lines, structure and tapping into building community, and really knowing who we serve. I think what's important is that one, that team members know each other.

00:11:12 Brenda

Because too many times we rely on, again, the title and we're like, "Oh, that's your role." And when there's a point, when there's a crisis or just it's go time. You relate better and you get things done when you actually know someone authentically than if it's just like a business transaction. Because of title, like, "Oh, you need to do this," when you actually get to know someone.

00:11:37 Brenda

I think for me, the vision for student services is to break down those barriers that existed, have existed for a long time. Those silos that a lot of folks continue to mention as a barrier and be intentional in that, as well as develop systems of support so that we can best serve our students.

00:11:56 Brenda

Simple enough. My leadership philosophy is my role is to remove the barriers in order to best serve our students. Whatever those barriers are, I get out of the way. Because when you uplift folks, they will shine.

00:12:10 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:12:11 Brenda

You probably hear me a lot, what I would say faculty and teachers would say, because again, I'm an educator, so I actually take every opportunity as a learning opportunity, a teachable opportunity not only for myself, but for the individual.

00:12:23 Brenda

So, I'm always explaining why I am deciding this and asking folks about what their thoughts are. It's honestly just being authentic and being present, and listening to what folks have. So, again, the vision is let's support, get to know each other, build community internally, so that we can then support the external community as well, and build systems of support and structure for that.

00:12:48 Salvatrice

I love that. Well, I think in the short period of time, you've definitely demonstrated that to me. And I'm very grateful, very, very grateful for your collaboration on many of the different areas in our divisions. This is the future of work, and I want to shift gears a little bit at a macro level.

00:13:03 Salvatrice

So, at a macro level, you and I are again, both practitioners in this arena. And we are purview to trends, to studies, to information, an abundance of information. What are you seeing as the direction we, as a system of community colleges, how we should be supporting our students through the continuum, through the academic continuum. Anything out there that you think we as, again, as a body should be really keeping an eye on?

00:13:39 Salvatrice

I say that also too, because our division, as you know, leads the Los Angeles Regional Consortium of 19 community colleges. And so, as leaders within that regional space, I'm really curious to hear about - and that's mostly focused on workforce.

00:13:53 Salvatrice

But I'd love to hear your perspective on a macro level with student services, and then how do we do more braiding? How do we do more braiding, and what we're doing at a regional level and what you're seeing as trends for our colleges?

00:14:06 Brenda

So, I would step back for a second and first say who are our students today, and who are our students of tomorrow? Pre-COVID, higher education was pretty predictable. We knew the ebbs and flows, there were students ... I could tell you when the campus was going to be packed, I could tell you if we programmed something at this time, no one was going to be there, we just knew.

00:14:27 Brenda

But we also know as national and state leaders that when it comes to higher education, things are shifting. And because of COVID, it has accelerated a shift that has been needing to take place in higher ED for a long time. And that shift specifically is around tapping into our industry.

00:14:48 Brenda

I go back to the who is our students, because our students are going to tell us, our community is going to tell us what we should be offering as options. What we know is that because of COVID, we all have done a gut check about what we value.

00:15:01 Brenda

People continue to say and have been saying pre-COVID and even more so now, they need flexibility, they need options. There's an old philosophy, I know it's an American movie, Costner: you will build it, they will come - the baseball field one.

00:15:16 Salvatrice

That's right. I forgot the title but I follow you.

00:15:21 Brenda

Yeah. So, that thought is there. It's like we built this institution, you student, you consumer, come here and adapt to us. I'm not about that, we need to flip the narrative. If we're listening, if we're in tune on what's happening at the national level, we need to flip that narrative. We will no longer be an institution if we continue to say, "You adapt to us." We need to adapt to the student.

00:15:43 Brenda

And so, what I'm seeing at the local and state and national level, is that we're not tapping into the industry. We're not asking our big partners like, "What do you need?" We're not asking our community, "Do you need upskilling? When and where do you need these classes? What degrees are valuable now?" Even degrees, I will say it; is that the ultimate? It may not be anymore. I think it's an opportunity to really listen.

00:16:08 Brenda

And so, I go back to tapping into that community, listening truly, authentically, and then trying to figure out how do we connect those dots? How do we get students into their workforce? Because ultimately, that's what we're trying to do.

00:16:25 Brenda

For me, that's how I see it. Students come to get a degree for what? For a career, to improve their lives, to include the community for all those things, not just education. Education's valuable in itself, but there's a reason why.

00:16:39 Brenda

And so, to actualize that, we have to tap into the leaders out there that are the movers and shakers. We have to tap into the businesses. We have to tap into the community and say, "Are we matching it? Are we matching the need that currently and in the future will be needed with what's being offered?"

00:16:59 Brenda

And are we talking with folks? Are we talking to, I would say the business community, workforce community in a way that we say, "Hey, how do we align it? How do we align what we offer?"

00:17:12 Brenda

I go back as simple as when do we do career exploration? Are we giving our students, I always say flashlights. Are we giving students all those available flashlights because everyone says, "Light at the end of the tunnel," are we giving them options for them to check?

00:17:27 Brenda

Again, I'll go to the COVID piece because I think that's really important. It's a game changer in higher education because folks are tapping into what they care about. No longer are folks saying, "Hey, I don't want to work 60 hours a week and not spend time with my loved one." We should listen to that. Because we did it, why wouldn't our students do that?

00:17:47 Brenda

And again, they're asking for flexibility. And I don't have the answer, I don't. I just know these are the questions that I'm curious about, and exploring with other leaders about what does this mean for us? We need to change because if we don't, we won't be in existence, not the way it looks like today.

00:18:04 Brenda

And so, again, sometimes the higher education, as we know, how institutions of higher education started at the lead schools, men only, and where we are today. If we would've stayed in that past, a big disservice, that's what maybe may have been needed then. I will tell you, they weren't listening to their community, because it wouldn't have been just that.

00:18:28 Brenda

But it's changed a lot. Higher education can be very slow to adapt, I don't think we can afford that now. I think for my philosophy or my view is when it comes to really making an impact, being a leader in the region, it's a trifecta for me. It's workforce, academic, student services.

00:18:47 Brenda

It's the three of us talking about what's happening in the field, what are folks saying? And then how do we actualize it and support our students. My perspective is supporting student through. Supporting the community through and then connecting those dots.

00:19:06 Brenda

Academic has to be offering our community needs, what the industry is saying, various industries because we tap all over the place. What are they saying again? And are we offering the right things at the right time for our students in the right manner? Which can be a little overwhelming for folks, I would say. But I think this is an exciting time and I think we need to disrupt the status quo for sure.

00:19:32 Salvatrice

Absolutely, I agree with you 100%. And you definitely have a thought leader with me. Include me in, count me in coach.

00:19:39 Brenda

Yes, I mean the Future of Work, really the name of the podcast is beautiful because that is, it's the future of, I would say, us. We have to be partners, it's not optional. It's about how do we work together and get really, truly live our mission and our vision. And if it's to support our community, the future of work is there. Because that is where students are going. They want the work, they want to thrive.

00:20:06 Salvatrice

And speaking of those future careers that you're mentioning that we're talking about here this morning, how are you seeing students services enhance that educational experience so that that student gets to their future career?

00:20:19 Brenda

We have such an array. So, when it comes to student services, we're talking everything from, "I am interested in college and I'm applying," the application process, admissions all the way to graduation. And in between that is dozens of support systems, dozens and dozens of support systems.

00:20:33 Brenda

So, I think for me, where are we exploring with students? Are we providing workshops or ways of getting them to think outside the box? How much are we challenging them to tap into internships? How are we turning leadership opportunities or leadership engagement on campus and informing their resume. And that's a lot of work that you're doing in workforce. And so, that's where the collaboration comes in.

00:21:00 Brenda

Example, student governments here and really across the nation deal with hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. And these are student leaders that are in charge of this money. I'm like, "Write that on your resume, put that in there." And like students that are like, "I'm not quite sure about this or that." I'm like, "Are you doing internships? Or even a smaller version of that, just job shadow someone."

00:21:24 Brenda

And so, for me, I think with student services, is really tapping into those opportunities, because we're all tapped into different spaces. And so, by putting that at the core of who we are and where we're going, which is again, who's the community and connecting the dots, then we can start leveraging those networks or I would say our social capita, and really help us support our students.

00:21:48 Salvatrice

So, I'm going to challenge you just a little bit. I'm going to give you a magic wand; with this magic wand, if you had one thing, one major change I should say, that you would like to see happen in student services as a system, as a system of community colleges, what would it be?

00:22:10 Brenda

I don't have a specific thing, I would say lead with curiosity. And so, as leaders here and across the nation, again, and really our community college system, when I say lead with curiosity, is again, examine who our students are, what their needs are now, and into the future. Be curious about, again, our industry, our workforce, what's available out there, what careers. I mean, the fact that we have influencers, what does that mean? And folks-

00:22:37 Salvatrice

What does that mean for education for sure?

00:22:38 Brenda

Right. And so, folks are like, "Oh, they're just ..." - well, these influencers are making a lot of money, and they're influencing not even the money piece. And let me just be honest; just the fact that just even the word influence, that they can drive change the way they want, they've got this captured audience.

00:22:56 Salvatrice

They're creating social impact in a way that we haven't seen before.

00:22:59 Brenda

We haven't. Why are folks dismissing that? People are like, "Oh, influencer, oh, that's a joke. You really need to look at X, Y, Z." It's like, "Stop, they're telling you what they want to do." So, when I hear influencer, "I want to be an influencer," I hear, "I want to be an entrepreneur, I want to be the boss. I want to be X, Y, Z," that's what I hear. I hear someone that want's that.

00:23:21 Brenda

So, then why not come here? We have amazing programs. Like when I hear influencer, I'm like, "You got a business plan? What's your network like? Who are you connected to? Who are you talking to?" Encourage that, feel that, don't dismiss it. That would be my magic wand, is lead with curiosity and then actualize it, activate. Take that knowledge, share it so that we can be responsive. So, always lead with curiosity.

00:23:49 Brenda

And I think if we had that versus being fixed, you come to us, we will build it, they will come. It's just not going to continue, it won't work. And we will see it because students will physically and virtually walk away.

00:24:04 Salvatrice

Yeah, absolutely.

00:24:06 Brenda

Let's make it simple. Clean it up, be curious, eliminate barriers, ask questions, encourage, light fires. They like music? Great. I mean, that's the first thing I ask students when they're asking, like, "I'm not sure." It's like, "What do you like to do?" They say, "Oh, I like music," great.

00:24:23 Brenda

So, what's that mean? "Do you like to listen? Do you like the beats? Do you like the lyrics? Do you like the business aspect? Do you like the technology aspect of it?" Tell me more. Like I'm not telling them what they need, they're telling me, I'm just asking questions.

00:24:39 Brenda

Because when I see a light in their eye and they get excited, ooh, you know, I'm going to tap them in. You know, I'm going to pull them in. I'm going to be like, "Ooh, hey, let's check this out." And I think one of the things that's really important is eliminating those silos, I haven't talked yet about that. Because when I say let's tap you in, it's not me that's going to help the student throughout.

00:25:00 Brenda

I'm not going to write an educational plan, I'm not going to do the career exploration. I'm going to light a fire and introduce them to my dear community, mi familia, mi gente. I would say mi gente which is my people in Puerto Rico, which is the term of endearment. But mi gente, I'm going to tap them in because we need to be able to trust and support: "Here's the person that's going to aid you in that, and then it's a chain."

00:25:24 Brenda

And suddenly, their circle of trust, understanding of the system that we've created is enhanced because now they know me, they know my mi gente, they know that gente's gente. And what do we end up with? Someone in the workforce, someone thriving in their community.

00:25:41 Brenda

And the other thing is, we think about it as again, degrees or certificates and completion. No, no, no, no, no, it's a cycle. We think about enrollment in the student journey as like a ... you start, you finish, not true.

00:25:55 Brenda

Because if we do it right, we tap into alumni who then help us get our students jobs and careers. People that want to upskill or come back for just new learning, relearning, whatever it is - it is a circular experience, yet we don't talk about it. We want it very structured, and that's not how we live or how our students live.

00:26:13 Brenda

And so, again, if we lead with curiosity, we learn all that. If they have a great experience, even better. And you know what, if it's not here at this particular school, it might be someplace else. And that's okay. And we need to be okay with that.

00:26:27 Brenda

Because here's the thing, what we know too is that when there's a bad experience, people will tell a dozen plus people. When it's a great experience, you might tell two or three, but those two or three matter.

00:26:36 Brenda

I'm sharing a quick example, I use a dog walking app. It's a way for folks to make some side money. When I met my first dog walker, Gloria, PCC student from inaudible

00:27:00 Salvatrice


00:27:01 Brenda


00:27:02 Salvatrice

Oh, that's beautiful.

00:27:03 Brenda

She wants to be a youth counselor. She's working towards it. I'm like-

00:27:07 Salvatrice

That's so great.

00:27:09 Brenda

And this, by the way, is in a like four or five minute conversation. I'm just like it fills my heart worth warmth. And I get excited and I ask, "What has been your experience?" Great. Amazing. Great. Because someone tapped into her and actually listened and said, "Yeah, we got you. This is how we're going to help you," and it spreads. And so, you're questioned around community, that's how you build community.

00:27:35 Salvatrice

That's right. That warms my heart so much to hear that story, I love it. That's why institutions exist, that's why we're here. And that's the beauty, and I love that. I love that so much. I'm always so energized by your enthusiasm and I know for a fact that our listener is going to be super energized by your enthusiasm as well. I learned so much from you today.

00:27:59 Brenda

Thank you so much. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you.

00:28:02 Salvatrice

You're very, very welcome. My biggest takeaway is lead with curiosity.

00:28:06 Brenda

That makes me happy.

00:28:08 Salvatrice

It does, it's so important. You know why? It's because in my humble opinion, leading with curiosity resonates whether you are a student, whether you're a faculty member listening, whether you are someone in advocacy, it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter.

00:28:24 Salvatrice

But if we all lead with good intentions and curiosity, as you mentioned, there's so many great things that could happen. We're in a transformative state, as you said, I love that. And I look forward to seeing what the future holds for our institutions in higher education. So, thank you so much.

00:28:40 Brenda

Thank you.

00:28:41 Salvatrice

It's been such a pleasure. In the event that someone would like to connect with you, what's the best way?

00:28:46 Brenda

You can reach me at my email, Instagram, I have Twitter, I have LinkedIn. Reach out if you have questions, if you want to explore, if you want to refer anyone, I'm here. I'm here to serve. That's all I want to do and I am honored and privileged to have that opportunity to do that every day. So, thank you.

00:29:07 Salvatrice

You're very, very welcome, such a pleasure. Well, I will see you soon. I get the beauty of getting to see you almost every single day and certainly weekly, thank you so much and we will catch up soon.

00:29:17 Brenda

Yes, thank you.

00:29:20 Salvatrice

Thank you for listening to the Future of Work Podcast. Make sure you're subscribed on your favorite listening platform so you can easily get new episodes every Tuesday.

00:29:29 Salvatrice

You can reach out to us by clicking on the website link below in the show notes to collaborate, partner, or just chat about all things future of work. We'd love to connect with you. All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College wish you safety and wellness.