Friday, December 6, 2013

VCCS Listening Tour stops at Reynolds Community College

J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College hosted the eighth and final stop of the VCCS Fall Listening Tour on Thursday, December 5 in the Workforce Development & Conference Center at the Parham Road Campus.

VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois has been conducting a series of listening tour sessions around the state, giving him the opportunity to hear directly from elected, community, education, economic development and business leaders about challenges that would benefit from greater community college focus.  Work on the third strategic plan of DuBois’ tenure as chancellor will begin in January, and continue throughout 2014. 
Thursday’s meeting was well attended by business and community leaders, educators, local entrepreneurs, board members, faculty and staff.  Topics of discussion included job retaining for workers as technology advances, formalizing internships programs, increasing community awareness of community college offerings such as the Guaranteed Transfer program and Advanced College Academy, programs for adult learners, and investigating ways that small businesses could increase their engagement with community colleges to the benefit of both.
 “Increasingly, community colleges are being looked at as the go-to place for bringing a community together and building a consensus for designing its future. That’s a new 21st century role that we are being asked to fulfill, and our community colleges are up to the task,” said DuBois.
DuBois expects to announce the members of a taskforce that will create the next VCCS six-year strategic plan in the next few days.  The plan will succeed the current VCCS six-year strategic plan, Achieve 2015.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Valley Proteins Fellow: Margo Fairchild

Each time Margo Fairchild enters a class at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, she envisions herself as an empty cup ready to be filled with knowledge.

Margo hasn’t always been so dedicated to formal education. At the end of her junior year at Massaponax High School in Fredericksburg, despite a good academic record she lost interest in school. She dropped out, earned her GED at 16 years of age, and spent the next four years working with no real plans for her future. Eventually she found herself longing for something more. She enrolled at Reynolds in the fall of 2012 where she discovered a new thirst for knowledge and a desire to pursue a career helping others. Just over a year later she’s already well on her way to that future. 
According to Margo, she fell in love with her Spanish class at Reynolds. Her professor, Maria Espiritu, recognized Margo’s talent and enthusiasm and suggested she take on the role of tutoring students in Spanish 101, so Margo did just that. Margo’s hard work resulted in a 4.0 grade point average in her first year at Reynolds and induction to the PTK honor society.
In May 2013 Margo learned she had been selected as a member of the 2013-2014 class of Valley Proteins Fellows. In addition to covering the cost of tuition the scholarship program also offers opportunities for professional development, travel and cultural experiences, a stipend for an internship and a community service project. Margo credits her receipt of the Valley Proteins Fellowship to Reynolds Scholarship Manager Nichole Page who advised her of the scholarship opportunity and prompted her to apply. “The fellowship has meant so much to me, most importantly peace of mind as I don’t have to worry about working to pay for my classes, allowing me to concentrate on my studies.” 
Seeking an opportunity to immerse herself in the Spanish language over the summer of 2013, Margo and her roommate engaged in a fundraising campaign hoping to raise enough funds to finance a three-week trip to Guatemala to volunteer at an orphanage with about 60 children. The fundraising campaign was so successful that in addition to financing their trip and making a financial donation to the orphanage, the young women were able to purchase Earthbox container garden systems for the orphanage. They set a goal of teaching the children sustainable gardening during their stay, with a vision of expanding the orphanage’s food supply. The gardening system boxes were shipped from Mexico to Guatemala and were waiting for them when they arrived, along with a farming specialist who traveled from Mexico to Guatemala to provide instruction in the use of the Earthboxes.   
It was while she was in Guatemala that Margo was offered the opportunity, as a Valley Proteins Fellow, to attend the 2013 International Youth Organization Forum in China along with 200 other students representing 26 countries. She jumped at the opportunity. During her week-long trip in October Margo enjoyed many new experiences, meeting and exchanging ideas with students from many different cultures and visiting landmarks like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  
Margo plans to transfer to VCU in the fall of 2014 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in International Studies with a minor in Spanish. Her long term goal is to pursue a career helping people of many different cultures, perhaps by increasing their food security through sustainable gardening. Whatever path she chooses, Margo is well on her way to a bright future.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Are you a college advisor? You better believe it!

So now you ask, “Where’s my first paycheck for my advising services?”  Hmmm, well that’s not going to happen for a few more years assuming you follow that education/career path; nonetheless since you’re now a seasoned Reynolds student, they will be asking for your advice about, well, college.  The ubiquitous “they” may be underclassmen from your old high school, “they” may friends and family members, and/or “they” may be the guys you work with. They are those who populate one or more of your own information networks.  

Most people accept the often-used four word formula for success, i.e., “make yourself more useful,” which frequently involves getting more education.  As they begin to think about their educational options, Reynolds is certainly on the radar screen for those who live in and around Greater Richmond.  So they’ll be asking you questions like, “Does Reynolds offer fill-in-the-blank program?”  “What’s it cost to go to Reynolds?”  “How are the teachers?” “Is it hard?” etc., etc., until they get to, “How do I get off to a good start?” and this is where you can really shine as someone’s college advisor.
In the opinion of this writer, the three most important items on the how-do-I-get-a-good-start list include,
1.      Take your college placement tests for reading, writing and math, and follow the recommendations. 

2.      Before your classes start, participate in a FREE Reynolds orientation program such as SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration) or a SOAR derivative.  These programs are only a few hours in length but they can be THE decisive factor in getting a good start.  

3.      During your first semester include SDV100-College Success Skills in your schedule of classes.  Don't be tempted to blow this class off as inconsequential because there is solid evidence that students who take this course and take it seriously simply do better in terms of grades and persistence.  An even better way to take this course is when it’s linked up with another course to form what’s called a “learning community.” 
Uh Oh!  A new term has just been introduced; what is a “learning community”?  A learning community (LC) is when two course sections in the same semester are linked together and the same students enroll in both course sections. Professors work together to coordinate assignments, content, and improve crossover learning between the courses.   WHY?  Just as with SDV 100, students tend to do better in and as a result of LC participation.  They’re happier, more engaged in their classes as well as with their professors and with other students. 
One of Reynolds most popular learning communities links SDV100 with ENG111 (Composition Skills I) and this LC is branded as “Getting a Clue” or simply “Clue.”   As you may suspect ENG111 is as writing course so by linking ENG111 with SDV100, students are able to reinforce the college success and survival skills discussed in SDV100 by writing about them in ENG111. Think of synergy.  Clue will assist its students along the path to making certain critical life choices (like picking a major, a career, or a transfer college) by teaching how to set goals, improve productivity, and develop the habits needed to ensure success in school and in life.  Reynolds’ Clue LC was awarded the Virginia Community College System’s first-place honors for Excellence in Education in the spring of 2010.  Keep up the good work guys. 
Somewhere above I mentioned your information networks.  Another thing that these LCs tend to accomplish is helping students to form their own reliable information networks; which is simply an outgrowth of enrolling the same group of students in two (or occasionally more) course sections.  These students see each other twice as often and it gets easier to pick out who’s reliable and who’s just taking up a seat in class, and then to approach another student (hopefully one of the reliable ones!) to form a study group or ask about a homework assignment.  So a direct benefit to you of these learning communities is that your gang will stop bugging you with all these questions when they begin to use their own newly-formed information networks! 
The following quotes come from three of Reynolds’ Clue LC students, 
This class really did restore my confidence in both my writing and myself.  The realization that I’m going to make it in college, that I can do this, is priceless to me and I’m so grateful.
I have found myself, for the first time, open to the discoveries of knowledge that college can provide.  As I have come to realize, college is not about grades or tests (though their importance is not lost on me), but rather being able to open your mind to the possibilities of further ways of thinking… I have learned more about myself in four months than I had in the previous twenty-one years.
Honestly, if I hadn’t taken this LC I would still be following the path of something that just wasn’t right for me. It’s intimidating to venture off the path and out of a career that I thought was right for me, but I know that it is necessary. All of these years I was very close minded about thoughts of other careers and possibilities.
For more info about LCs see  

Charlie Peterson is Assistant Dean of Educational Support Services, Professor and Director of Learning Communities at Reynolds Community College