Community College Rocks

As a PhD student in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management (a Department made up of all masters and PhD students), I typically work with graduate students, post-docs, and faculty. However, this past summer I had the pleasure of working with some exceptional undergraduates, and something unexpected happened: a passion for teaching and mentoring sparked.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy working with graduate students, because I do. Very much so. They are smart and driven and have their eye on their respective career prizes. I learn just as much from them as they may from me. But the rewards I felt working with undergrads were unique.

Jack Kent Cooke Bridges student interns outside the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary office on UC Santa Barbara's west campus. (June 14, 2105)

Jack Kent Cooke Bridges student interns outside the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary office on UC Santa Barbara’s west campus. (June 14, 2105)

Earlier in the summer I worked with four community college students who came to the University of California (UC), Santa Barbara from all over the state of California for an intense one-week program designed to support their goal of transferring to a 4-year institution to study a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) major. The program is made possible by the UCSB Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Students were led through in-depth introductions to UC coursework, the transfer process, and various STEM career paths. A cornerstone of the program is that the students also serve on a team of four research interns who work on a project under the guidance of a PhD student or post-doc. This is how I was involved, as their research mentor.

Although I could go on and on about my personal feelings and the insights that I gained this past summer, I think the information is better conveyed through the words of the students themselves. They are bright shining stars and the best way for me to share their light with you is by sharing their voice. This will be the first of a two-part series of blog posts written by my summer student interns.

Part 1: Community College Rocks

The first way that I was inspired by my summer interns was being exposed to the potential benefits of the community college pathway. Previously, I had little knowledge of the community college experience, and the myriad of reasons why students choose to attend community college versus a 4-year institution after high school. While both are great options, little known fact: Community College Rocks.

Meet Caitlin:

Caitlin measuring a sand crab near Campus Point. (June 14, 2015)

Caitlin measuring a sand crab near Campus Point. (June 14, 2015)

If you don’t go to community college you’re missing out. Okay, that’s a little harsh and strange considering most people feel like by going to a community college right out of high school, you actually are missing out on the college experience. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily true. Hello to Lindsey’s blog followers, I’m a current student at Cosumnes River College, the community college in my home town (Sacramento), and although I was discouraged at first, I soon found it to be possibly the best decision I’ve made yet. As a senior in high school, I was heart set on going to the University of Washington for a lot of reasons, but mostly for the location in Seattle and the fact that it offered biomedical engineering as a major. When I found out I got accepted, I got extremely excited and impulse accepted their offer right away. Next thing you know, I’m looking through it with my dad and the bomb hit. The dreaded out-of-state tuition.

Well, it all worked out. Because it was ridiculously expensive to go to UofW, I went to community college and only had to pay $9 a semester for all my units (#winning). Looking back on how I used to view college in high school versus how I view college now, there are just so many things that I had wrong. First of all, your first few years of college are basically just doing all your college general education (GE). It’s pretty standard within each state, so it’s the difference in possibly $30,000 and $32 for two years. Second, the classroom size is a lot smaller and more interactive between students and teachers. This can really benefit someone’s education because you can take full advantage of being able to ask the Professor direct questions. Third, it gives students a chance to make sure they are committed to the right major without spending a fortune. I’ve known people who have switched from biology to sociology and business to botany. At a university, switching could be a detriment to your pocket.

I’d say really the only disadvantage is how people react to where you go to college. For whatever reason, there’s this strange stereotype that community college students weren’t able to get into other universities, or something along those lines. So sometimes, someone would ask me where I go to college and it was always so displeasing to see how their face just falls flat. I’m sure many people find this really embarrassing but it’s just how you look at it. Personally, I see it as a way for people to underestimate me, so that when I get to my university to get my degree, it will be that much more glorious. (In your face you non-believers!) Many people also tend to get stuck in community college or find college is not for them. As long as you stay on track and know you’re motivated to transfer to get a degree, you’ll make it. Yes, I recommend community college greatly. I could speak about this forever, so to spare the both of us, thanks for your time. 🙂

Meet Carolina:

Carolina looking at fish larvae in the Fish and Marine Invertebrate Lab at UCSB. (June 13, 2015)

Carolina looking at fish larvae in the Fish and Marine Invertebrate Lab at UCSB. (June 13, 2015)

After I graduated high school, I was enrolled to attend California State University, Northridge; however, two weeks before school started I decided to go to Ventura College instead. I choose to go to community college because I had no idea what I wanted to study, but I went in knowing I wanted to transfer out to a four-year university. After taking chemistry my first semester, I knew what direction I wanted to go towards. With a Professor’s guidance, I was able to decide on a major and choose chemical engineering.

Community college has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. For one, it is quite smaller than a university. Because it is smaller, it makes it easier to get to know your Professors as well as not being too overwhelming. Another plus is that it is without a doubt cheaper than tuition at a university.

However, it also has its disadvantages. Classes at a community college might not be as vigorous as classes at universities, so one might not be as prepared for university-level work as one should. Perhaps the biggest downfall of going to a community college is worrying about transferring. It’s like senior year of high school all over again. You have to do your applications and write your personal statements. Possibly the hardest part of the transferring process is making sure you are taking all the correct classes. Because the counselors at community colleges are not specialized in the school and major of your choice, you have to do your own research. They can guide you towards the right direction, but they might also tell you incorrect information. You have to make sure to check that you are indeed taking the correct courses. I have actually had a counselor tell me to take a world history class, so I took it. I later figured out the school I want to transfer does not want that class but U.S. history.

All in all, I think that there are some repercussions of attending community college, but I do not regret attending. I do not think community college has fully prepared me for university level work, so I may have a hard time adjusting once I transfer. However, I also know that I the amount of interaction I have had with my Professors is rare at universities. I definitely recommend community college for people who do not know what to major in. It is a great place to explore different classes to see what sparks your interest without it being too costly.

Meet Daniel:

Daniel with his favorite keystone species, Pisaster giganteus, at Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve. (June 16, 2015)

Daniel with his favorite keystone species, Pisaster giganteus, at Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve. (June 16, 2015)

I currently attend Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, California. Before enrolling in community college, I had concluded my High School studies in Mexico, where I was born. My initial intentions after graduating High School were to move to the United States to further my studies at a 4-year institution. For that reason, I applied and got accepted into a university as a neurosciences major. However, after learning about out-of-state tuition, I was led to reevaluate my decision and turned to community college as an opportunity to receive quality education at a much lower price. Frankly, at the time, I was sad that I had to decline my acceptance into a university to go to community college instead since there is a common misconception that community college is somehow inferior to a 4-year institution. Now that I am one year away from transferring to a UC (hopefully) as a Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior major; I realize how inaccurate the previous notion is. Community college allowed me to develop skills that would have otherwise been harder to attain at a university. Adapting to anything takes time and effort. I not only had to adapt to college as a new experience but I also had to adapt to a whole new culture and language. As a student who had not previously been exposed to education in English, being able to interact with Professors in a much smaller setting, with fewer students, was prime. I have heard experiences from fellow students at large universities who struggle since access to the Professor is somewhat limited when their class sizes are up to 300.

Over time, I have met students in community college who are brilliant and have their own unique story. In my opinion, community college is great at accommodating students’ particular needs and can be considerably more flexible than a 4-year institution. My only suggestion to High School graduates who are planning to attend community college would be to stay focused. In comparison with a 4-year institution where a great fraction of the students are driven and highly competitive, in community college there are some students who don’t really care and are there just to kill time. Since getting sidetracked is easier, it helps to have a clear mindset of what you want to accomplish and the amount of time in which you wish to do so. Other than that, I would recommend community college to any High School graduate. Rather than putting you at a disadvantage, it provides an alternate route that will ultimately get you where you want to go.

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