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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments
with Information Technology Professionals

Faces of Our Community:
Connecting Through Story

Shoreline Community College
Seattle, WA


Background

Over the past 20 years, like many suburban districts, the cities of Shoreline and Lake Forest Park in Washington State have undergone rapid and dramatic growth and change. The minority population has changed from one percent to over 20 percent, with a significant number of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and, recently, Africa. On the heels of this rapid change comes the realization that many of our new immigrant and refugee residents are not accessing educational opportunities in order to contribute the rich and varied skills they bring with them to the community.

Grant Project

In October of 2000, Shoreline Community College received a three-year grant in the amount of $427,361 from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, awarded by the U.S. Department of Education. The mission of this project was to use the transformative power of education to expand the opportunities available to immigrants and refugees and to promote recognition of their contributions to our campus and community.

Project Goals

The broad intent of the project was to build on what immigrant and refugee students know about their cultures, histories, and languages, in order to reposition them as resources and experts in the cultural information that all of us need to create a successfully diverse society. Project directors organized efforts around three primary goals:

  • To develop curriculum pathways that lead to professional and educational opportunities where value is placed on knowledge and skills related to diversity in society and the workplace
  • To develop educational models and materials for professional development and community education around immigrant and refugee experiences and perspectives
  • To design and implement activities, structures, and connection – on campus, in the community, and between campus and community – that facilitate recruitment, access, retention, and support services for immigrants and refugees.

A Model of Transformation

There are four dimensions that are critical to this integrative, systemic effort. The model that emerged attempts to capture these dimensions of transformation:

  • Listening and learning
    We have come to appreciate the importance of reversing the common academic assumption that we are the experts and know the answers. Emphasis has been on listening to immigrants and refugees, learning about their experiences, gathering their stories, and hearing what they have to teach us about their communities.
  • Educating and increasing awareness
    In order to expand the opportunities available to immigrants and refugees, it is necessary to increase general awareness about their experiences and the issues they face. Educational activities not only spoke to the challenges and barriers that they face as new Americans, but also emphasized their contributions to the campus and communities. These assets include the cultural and linguistic knowledge that they bring, as well as the capacity to negotiate across cultural spaces. We have found that the endeavor to increase faculty, staff, student, and community awareness about the distinctive issues and experiences of immigrants and refugees is most effective when situated within the larger framework of multicultural education; at the same time, inclusion of their particular issues stretches and changes the multicultural framework itself.
  • Promoting student success
    We have collaborated with other parts of the college campus to create a welcoming atmosphere and increase access, retention, and support services.
  • Bridging campus and community
    As part of a community college in an increasingly diverse community, we have had a central focus on building relationships with various aspects of the community. The project includes a Community Advisory Group, interfaced with the local school district, and works toward creating more connections with the immigrant and refugee communities.

Successes and Lessons Learned

Shoreline’s primary accomplishments may be divided into the following areas:

1. Professional Development and Curriculum

  • We have provided professional development experiences for faculty and staff around immigrant and refugee perspectives and experiences.
  • The resources developed will be part of the ongoing curriculum transformation process, which is focused on cultural diversity. We have an informational article, a bibliography, a collection of immigrant stories, a website, and a multimedia CD that features photographs and stories of seven immigrant and refugee students.
  • Our participation has helped to initiate programs that will support ESL students in bridging into particular work areas such as health care and automotive. The curriculum incorporates the dimensions of cultural competence and cultural brokering and emphasizes the strengths and contributions that these students bring to their work in the U.S.
  • We have supported the development of several new courses, including History of American Immigration and An American Tale. The latter not only examines immigrant experiences within the multicultural context, but also provides opportunities for students to conduct some interviews and to make direct observations of the demographic changes in their community.
  • Through experiences and culminating work, project staff have begun to raise questions about the viability of structured Curriculum Pathways, as originally conceived in the proposal model. It is vital to begin with the goals and interests of ESL students, which in our experience have focused primarily on careers in health care and business. The development of bridge curricula in those areas is a long-term project, and the possibility is that a particular campus will depend very much on existing program personnel, structures, and philosophies. As always, the cultivation of faculty support is essential in order to move in these new directions.
2. Student Services
Working with a cross-campus team in the area of student services, we have facilitated numerous changes and developments that help to make the campus more welcoming and supportive to immigrant and refugee students, including translating admission materials, expanding ESL orientations, and connecting ESL students more effectively to support services on campus; this is obviously long-term work. We are advocating for adding language and national origin to our strategic planning list of aspects of diversity that are honored at the college.

3. Community Connections
The new community linkages we have created are significant, but such connections require nurturing and sustaining over time. Fortunately, our campus has an immigrant student advisor who is able to give some of her time and energy to this aspect.

Final Thoughts

The most obvious lesson is that this kind of work takes time: all cultural diversity work is a long-term commitment, and this particular aspect is no exception. There are many difficult issues that need to be approached, including race, ethnicity, power, and privilege; because we have come to appreciate the enormous role that language and English language learning play in the lives of immigrants and refugees, we advocate for including awareness of the power and privilege that pertains to English language use in this country.

If we take seriously the importance of emphasizing the strengths and contributions that immigrants and refugees bring to their lives in the U.S., we argue that the more traditional approach, i.e., helping them to fit into our societal and educational system, is a very limited and limiting short-term strategy. Ultimately, as the nation’s population continues to change, we are talking about a necessary shift in the culture of educational institutions – a shift that naturally requires the support and commitment of institutional leadership. In addition, work in this area has clearly been made even more challenging by the events following 9/11, and the atmosphere of intensified feelings and opinions surrounding racial, linguistic, and national-origin differences among members of our communities. Projects such as ours exist in the larger context of a national conversation about “Who is an American”?


For more information, contact

Alexandra Hepburn
FIPSE Project Director
Faces of Our Community: Connecting Through Story

Shoreline Community College
16101 Greenwood Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98133
206-546-6915


 
 

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