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Transcript- Episode 90: REVISITING: How To Empower the Community and Remove Barriers For Students with Dr. Laura Ramirez Episode 90

Mar 28, 2023


00:00:00            Dr. Laura

And when we talk about equity, when we talk about guided pathways, when we talk about helping our students move up the socioeconomic ladder, all those things really come back to one thing, and it's community. And that's the bare bones of what a community college is.

00:00:21            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.

00:00:34            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?

00:00:46            Salvatrice

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

00:00:54            Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.

00:00:58            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.

00:01:12            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. You, the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.

00:01:32            Christina

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

00:01:40            Salvatrice

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

00:01:44            Christina

Today, we revisit this conversation that shares insights on student barriers and the solutions community colleges can provide in partnership with employers in any industry, and creating pathways to overcoming them.

00:01:59            Salvatrice

Welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo with Pasadena City College. Today, I have with me, Dr. Laura Ramirez, Vice President of Instruction. Laura, welcome.

00:02:13            Dr. Laura

Hello. Well, thank you for the welcome.

00:02:15            Salvatrice

We're very fortunate to have you onboarded here at Pasadena City College, and many of us, just like myself, are excited to collaborate. I wanted to get into a little bit about your role.

00:02:28            Salvatrice

Sometimes I get asked that question actually often. I think there's lots of folks out there that are really interested in hearing from you about really your role here, and what is your purview as assistant superintendent and Vice President for Pasadena City College?

00:02:45            Dr. Laura

So, I think my work in the area of instruction is really to ensure that regardless of the modality of where and when, and who our student is, that Pasadena City College is putting its best foot forward, and making sure that we offer the best high-quality instruction that we can.

00:03:08            Dr. Laura

And that includes not only for our liberal arts and transfer programs, but also, for our workforce programs, our CTE programs, our career technical ed. That's where I think we have the ability to make the biggest impact in our local communities, is providing students of every background, age, whatever time in their life they may be in, whether they're still in high school, right out of high school or they're coming back to be trained or retrained to be successful in the workforce.

00:03:39            Dr. Laura

And so, my role as Vice President of Instruction is to provide the tools, the platform that our faculty need, that the community needs to make it happen. So, bringing people together is really important. Providing the tools to let faculty be creative, to work with their deans, to be creative in how they develop and implement new curriculum, how they meet the demands in this case, what we're talking about, workforce, of what the workforce needs today and tomorrow.

00:04:14            Salvatrice

Right. And sometimes, we get really kind of caught up in the weeds of what that might look like, but I think as administrators, we really kind of take a look at the landscape of what we're trying to achieve here and pulling together and collaborating.

00:04:32            Salvatrice

And to your point, I think we as a Office of Economic and Workforce Development, as your collaborator on some of these things, when you talked about the tools and the resources, are you specifically looking at funding or what perhaps, tools and resources might you need to provide to the faculty and the deans?

00:04:55            Salvatrice

Because we do have employers out there that are listening to the podcast, and so perhaps, there might be an ask for the employers as it relates to providing these wraparound kind of resources for our deans and our faculty to create instruction, and have instruction that is meeting the current demands of the labor market information or specific industries. And allowing that space for creativity, as you mentioned, feeding back to what you're calling high-quality instruction.

00:05:25            Salvatrice

What might that look like for us as a division to help you kind of push this along a little bit? How could we be of help?

00:05:34            Dr. Laura

So, what I see the Office of Economic and Workforce Development providing is to do an assessment of what are the needs of the local and regional workforce, bringing the college closer to business and industry leaders to talk about what the future holds.

00:05:50            Dr. Laura

So, it could be something on a small level, on a individual basis. So, an example would be, I did some work a while back with nurses in the county of LA who were working with the deaf community. And so, what I was able to do is connect them with our ASL faculty. We developed a short-term, one semester training for nurses to learn some basic sign language so that they can communicate with their patients that they were servicing.

00:06:20            Dr. Laura

That's an example of being creative and saying, "Yeah, we can do that. We can prepare curriculum to meet the needs of a workforce."

00:06:28            Dr. Laura

Something else that we see now more and more is the work of telehealth. So, there was a time where we started talking about telehealth in the healthcare industry. And so, there was a provider that turned to the community college system to start training their medical assistants, their LVNs on how to use telehealth to manage patient care.

00:06:49            Dr. Laura

So, as things start to emerge, I think number one is letting our industry partners know that the community college can provide that training, that they do not have to go proprietary, that we can provide that for them. And how we do it is by making sure that they have the numbers of students that we would need to be able to support it.

00:07:11            Dr. Laura

We're not gonna do training for one or two, we need to be able to do training for a large number, a relatively large number of employees. And if they see a future where they're going to need a specific type of workforce, whether it's in the hospitality industry, in the technology industry, what that workforce looks like, what their needs are, so that we can develop programs to meet those needs.

00:07:34            Salvatrice

That really kind of speaks to our ideal or a strong industry partner. And you mentioned that we're really looking to do things in full capacity, meaning just perhaps maybe just not in small doses, but rather really engaging with an industry partner, an employer or employers of the same sector, and providing these trainings and resources to them to help upskill their existing workforce.

00:08:05            Salvatrice

And to do that in magnitude really kind of requires us to be in alignment with industry partners, knowing that that that's an element or maybe not so much a requirement, but it'd be best if scenario. When we talk about that ideal or good productive industry partner, what might that look like for you big picture-wise?

00:08:30            Dr. Laura

So, an industry partner would be someone that is not necessarily just one entity. We can work with, for example, if we're talking about the healthcare industry - we can work with not just one hospital, but multiple hospitals because they all operate and have the same types of needs.

00:08:46            Dr. Laura

And so, we can bring together a group to provide and develop training that services a broader region. That's not only helping the employer, but a broader economy. A broader community. So, that's really important that we can touch beyond just our local partners, that we can have multiple entities come together that provide the same type of service.

00:09:10            Dr. Laura

Whether it's the healthcare field, let's say hospitality, technology or automotive - we can provide training to not just Toyota and Nissan, but we can provide training opportunities for Toyota and Nissan, Ford, BMW, so on and so on. Because they're all doing the same type of work, and they have the same types of demands if we're talking about things, for example, like customer service or general services that they provide to their customers.

00:09:36            Dr. Laura

Another good example of an important partner for us is someone that provides opportunities for our students. So, in our career technical programs, we have many short-term certificate programs that prepare students for very specific roles within sector. And so, part of the training in many of our CTE programs includes on-the-job training, where students would benefit from having that experience in a real life setting.

00:10:07            Dr. Laura

It does a number of things. It introduces them to what the real workforce is like, what the day-to-day is like. It provides some contacts, it provides them someone that can vouch for them. So, if we have someone that does an internship at a local technology company, they may not hire them for a permanent position because they don't have it.

00:10:28            Dr. Laura

But what they've done is they've given that student the ability to say, "I know what it's like to be in the field, and this person I have a contact now can vouch for my work." And we know that goes a long way when young people are looking for their first opportunity in the workforce, is they need someone to vouch for them.

00:10:48            Dr. Laura

They need that reference, and they need to be able to say, "Well, I may not have had been paid for the employment, but it was part of my training. This is what I've done, this is where I was, and I had an opportunity to have that type of experience." That goes a long way in the job hunting round for them.

00:11:04            Salvatrice

That's right. The, the build of their employability skills, the build of their network. And oftentimes, we don't really underscore the value or amplify the value, I should say, of having our students in the workforce doing the day-to-day and complimenting the work that is being done in the classroom with their experiences with our employers.

00:11:31            Salvatrice

And for me, I often think about what are some pathways that we can develop? That word "pathways" gets used a lot. You and I both know being like in this world of academia, but what could ... I'm always looking at like, what could I do? Like what could I do as an ED of economic and workforce development - what could I do to improve upon this pathway development?

00:11:56            Salvatrice

Whether it's pathway development to work-based learning and onsite experiences, or it is development in non-credit to credit matriculation, whether it's development in actually creating a pathway to employment. I'm always looking at what are some of the optimal opportunities that we can leverage now and have our students really experience that.

00:12:19            Salvatrice

So, based on your experiences, where do you think that we - because I struggle with this sometimes, maybe because I'm still in the learning phase myself. But where do we in academia get it right as it relates to pathway development and where do you think we should improve on or what needs to get improved, do you think?

00:12:38            Dr. Laura

So, I think what we know today, we used to call students many times in community college, our non-traditional students. And non-traditional is now really more, I think, our students. It's who we service. Very few of our students do not work. Very few of our students do not have or have some type of financial hardship. Most of our students are first generation.

00:13:03            Dr. Laura

We can talk about all the reasons that our students need extra support, especially in the community college system. But the one thing I think we undervalue is the fact that most of our students have employment of some type. And I think in retrospect, for myself, that's been both - and some people may say a detriment, but I think it's also been a very positive experience that we use students' experience in the workforce to teach them how to move on from there.

00:13:40            Dr. Laura

Everything and every job we have, we learn something. You learn how to manage your time, you learn how to deal with public, customer service. Maybe you're dealing with money, maybe you're dealing with medical records - whatever it is, you're learning a skill that can be applied to a future profession or career.

00:13:58            Dr. Laura

And so, I think it's really important to help students early on in their academic career when they start the community college as part of their pathway, to start to hone in on what are their skills, what are their interests, in what general field do they see themselves in 10, 15, 20 years.

00:14:19            Dr. Laura

So, that they can start early on tapping into that part of the workforce. So, for example, if I know that I am a business major or I like that field, that's what I'm leaning towards, then maybe I should start looking for a job and something linked to that industry, right?

00:14:42            Dr. Laura

So, that as I move on in my academic career, my work is somehow supporting that as well. So, I think as part of our pathway, we need to impress on students the value of the work they're doing now, because most of them are going to have to work.

00:14:58            Dr. Laura

And what better way to advance their academic as well as their professional career by starting as early as possible and getting their feet wet in whatever it is. If they think they want to go into psychology, then maybe working in an education setting is to their benefit. Working with students, working in a daycare center, working in a hospital.

00:15:19            Dr. Laura

And it doesn't mean that they're going to be a teacher or a daycare provider, but those experiences do lend themselves to a - in the general area of maybe psychology or social work or something in that field. So, part of our pathway work is to tap into or have the tools that we need to help students tap into what those interests they may have.

00:15:42            Dr. Laura

And then the other part of developing pathways that's really important in the community college is trying to get students into and out of their pathways and into the workforce or into a transfer program as soon as possible.

00:15:54            Salvatrice

Yes, for sure.

00:15:55            Dr. Laura

We know that moving students and moving our communities up that socioeconomic ladder requires them to have training in higher degrees. And so, the sooner we can get them into those training programs and completing of a higher degree, the faster they're going to be able to move up that ladder and support their immediate community.

00:16:16            Salvatrice

I'm glad you said that, because it really shares and underscores the importance of removing barriers for our students so that they can move quickly through the training, through the certification, through their academic journey here, and get them straight into the workforce.

00:16:36            Salvatrice

And as you said that, it made me think about really our efforts here at EDW in developing programming for our employers around DEI, around the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And our efforts in incorporating equity access not only within the workforce, within the existing workforce is also very, very true, and has always been true here on the academic side of the house.

00:17:08            Salvatrice

The success of our students is dependent on the removal of barriers. What are your thoughts really on how we as administrators, as a community college system, as a community really incorporate equity access into our education model?

00:17:27            Dr. Laura

So, when I think of a workforce and equity, a lot has to do with preparation. And I think of my own experiences as a young adult, and I realize that working with young students, that they sometimes don't have the tools or someone to explain how to do certain things that maybe other students, because of their background, because of their experiences, because of their support network they have access to.

00:18:04            Dr. Laura

So, one example is, it seems very simple, but writing a resume and showing up to an interview.

00:18:13            Salvatrice


00:18:14            Dr. Laura

That's huge for a young person that maybe has never gone through that, that maybe graduated from high school, didn't have a job, and now is realizing, "Hey, I need to have money in my pocket, I want to go to school, I need to get a job. How do I start to put together a resume? How do I start to communicate to a potential employer that I'm a good candidate?"

00:18:39            Dr. Laura

And so, I've worked with young people and said, "Look, when you show up to that first interview, this is what you wanna do. This is how you want to dress, this is how you want to present yourself. You walk into a place of business and what do you do? You introduce yourself, and you ask for the manager."

00:18:55            Dr. Laura

Believe it or not, that is not easy for someone for the first time without having any direction. So, those are very basic skills that we need to be able to provide at every level. A young student doesn't have to go see a career counselor to learn that, they can learn that from almost anyone that works in a community college because we've all been through it.

00:19:19            Salvatrice


00:19:19            Dr. Laura

So, part of it is empowering all of our employees, staff, faculty, counselors, managers, that they all play a role in helping elevate our students. And those small pieces of information are really critical to help somebody not only in let's say, acquiring their first job, but also in asking for help.

00:19:43            Dr. Laura

Many of our students are intimidated by walking into a learning support center or don't know what questions to ask when they see a counselor. They kind of just show up maybe and wait to see what they're told. So, I think that's a big part of supporting our students that maybe don't have that type of support network outside of the college.

00:20:05            Salvatrice

Right. I would agree with you a hundred percent. And I would even go further into saying that our employers play a very important role in that too, in working collectively with instruction, and working collectively in the classroom at the Freeman Center, at et cetera, et cetera.

00:20:25            Salvatrice

It does take a community to nurture and develop our new talent. It really does. And I'm so thankful that you said that, that it really just doesn't fall on one entity of the college. It falls on everyone's plate because that's what our student is here to do. Our student is here to move forward.

00:20:46            Salvatrice

And this onward or upward, I should say, social mobility and improve their economic vitality. And that is certainly what we're here to do at the college. And I would even go as far as saying we've had to really retool right and reconsider the way we provide those services, whether it's in instruction, whether it's in economic and workforce development, or in the classroom.

00:21:18            Salvatrice

We've really had to - and we've shared these conversations in previous episodes of really flipping the model on how we conduct business within academia to ensure that our student is still getting the quality instruction that they deserve. And as well as those wraparound services for them.

00:21:39            Salvatrice

I had some serious key lessons from it. One of the key lessons for me was work faster, work quicker. Sometimes we think about academia being not as nimble, not as flexible, not as responsive when in fact, I feel we were incredibly responsive. I feel like we turned on a dime and that really took the efforts of an entire community college.

00:22:03            Salvatrice

And I've had certainly some key lessons I mentioned. Were there any key lessons for you in your experiences, within instruction about retooling and reconsidering some of the services that we offer to our students?

00:22:19            Dr. Laura

You know, one of the things I have learned ... I think we all knew it, but we all know it, but it kind of really brought it to the forefront for me in talking to students. And I have kids in college, so they have also shared that with me. And it's the value of connection.

00:22:38            Dr. Laura

And when we talk about equity, when we talk about guided pathways, when we talk about helping our students move up the socioeconomic ladder, all those things really come back to one thing, and it's community. And that's the bare bones of what a community college is. We're about community. We're about connecting. We're about connecting to our local community, we're about lifting the local community, and I think that's key.

00:23:06            Salvatrice

Thank you for sharing that. And speaking of which, in thinking about community and connection, how could our community be of service to you and to your efforts?

00:23:18            Dr. Laura

Again, reminding and keeping Pasadena City College at the forefront of our business and industry partnerships is important, and to be able to help them develop their workforce needs as well.

00:23:32            Salvatrice

Thank you so much, Dr. Ramirez. It's been wonderful. We're thankful for you again, and we look forward to continued efforts with you and continued work.

00:23:41            Dr. Laura

Thank you so much. This was great, and I look forward to coming back.

00:23:46            Salvatrice

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

00:23:55            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.