How San Jacinto College is Dismantling Barriers to Student Success

“When I think about how our country can become more equitable, it’s the work you do,” said Dr. Penny MacCormack, Chief Academic Officer at ACUE, at the San Jacinto College Assembly in her keynote address to hundreds of educators. “Every interaction you have with students is important.” 

In fall 2021, 82 San Jacinto College instructors and staff participated in ACUE’s program, successfully completing a microcredential in Inclusive Teaching for Equitable Learning (ITEL). Among them: their Chancellor, Brenda Hellyer. 

“It was a very powerful experience,” Dr. Hellyer said. “I wanted to understand more about myself and how I can be a better leader.” In the self-reflection exercises, in particular, she found a greater level of empathy for her students, while also recognizing her own privilege. “It helped me dig a lot deeper.” 

As Dr. MacCormack explained in her keynote, ITEL is designed to provide educators and non-instructional staff with proven strategies to create a more equitable and just learning environment. Modules focus on implicit bias, microaggressions, stereotype threat and imposter phenomenon as well as creating an inclusive learning environment and designing equity-centered courses. It includes expert insights, demonstrations of practices in authentic settings, testimonials from faculty who have used the practices and seen their impact on students firsthand, as well as Observe and Analyze videos to prompt conversations between cohort members who are learning alongside their colleagues. 

ITEL’s design coincides with SJC’s mission to serve its diverse populations by providing access to quality education that advances the success of students from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.​ Guided by the question, “How does this affect equity and opportunity for our students and our community?” San Jacinto College has not only embraced ACUE’s ITEL course, but is now preparing to equip more instructors with effective teaching practices presented in ACUE’s additional course offerings. 

“There’s a myth that you’re either born with the characteristics to be an effective teacher or you’re not,” Dr. MacCormack noted. “That’s damaging to faculty and students,” adding that “in order for students to succeed — and feel a sense of belonging in college, which is critical to their perseverance — they must be engaged with quality-based instruction. And faculty, in turn, must be equipped with the tools to engage students in learning.”  

With 40 years of research and learning science informing it, Dr. MacCormack said, the ACUE framework encourages instructors to engage students at deeper levels, and ultimately narrow and close equity gaps. 

In a panel following Dr. MacCormack’s presentation, educators spoke about their experience completing the course and implementing new practices in their classrooms.  

Tammi Rice, a Math professor, spoke about experiencing imposter phenomenon and how completing the program led her to have more compassion for both her students and herself. “I went in with the goal of being better for my students but also for myself,” she said. “I think I’m much more complimentary than I ever had been. Now I have more robust insight into who my students are.” She added, “the course solidified the direction I was going in. I had solid research to go back to and didn’t feel so alone.” 

“We want to feel like we’re part of a community,” Crystal Higgs, a Biology professor, agreed. “When we express [our vulnerability] to our students, it helps them feel engaged and closer to us. Don’t be afraid of sharing your fears.” 

Now, Higgs uses a more intention-based method of instructing her students. During group work, for example, she assigns groups with an eye on the different skill sets students have, thanks to the lessons she learned from ACUE. 

“The most important element was the self-reflection for me,” Robert Flynn, an English professor, said. “I come from a position of privilege in this society. While there was a casual understanding of that, the reflection enabled me to increase my own level of self-awareness.” 

The ACUE program, he explained, helped him “reflect on how other people learn from me. That’s going to live the longest for me with this course.” 

Learn more about ACUE’s microcredential course Inclusive Teaching for Equitable Learning. 

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