How a community college aims to reverse STEM underrepresentation

An initiative called 'Ganas'—which means 'grit' in Spanish—will remove higher ed barriers to student success

Ganas, or “grit” in Spanish, is the driving principle behind a San Jose City College initiative aimed at removing educational barriers for Hispanic students and reversing underrepresentation key industries.

The California community college has received a five-year, $2.9 million Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create guided pathways for Latinx and low-income students in engineering, public health and teacher preparation.

“If you think of education as a pipeline, we looked at where we were losing students who were doing well but lost momentum,” says Robert Gutierrez, director of the college’s METAS Center for first-generation students and students from marginalized communities. “We’re also in the heart of Silicon Valley and we felt that not graduating students in STEM at an equitable rate was a big disservice.”

The Title V ‘Ganas’ project will create a new academic support system that includes intensive counseling and peer tutoring.

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The college will also lock in a guaranteed course schedule so students know when the classes they need will be offered, says Elizabeth Gonzalez, the college’s grant manager for Title V Hispanic-serving initiatives.

Educators at the college have used other HSI grants to better prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions.

Some students struggle with the shift in pace and rigor while others have to overcome misconceptions that they are not four-year college material, Gonzalez says.

HSI grants have funded programs that allow San Jose City College students to take courses in the University of California and California State University systems.

The most recent grant for the Ganas program will also fund ongoing faculty workshops in culturally responsive practices and assessing data through an equity lens, Gutierrez says.

Bilingual outreach

An HSI grant in 2015 allowed the college to partner with the University of California, Santa Cruz to help students and their families navigate the transfer process.

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A linchpin in this program is the spring “Dia de la Familia,” or “Family Day,” where students and family members get to tour the UC Santa Cruz campus to better understand the admissions process, financial aid and other key components of the four-year college experience.

The day includes presentations by a panel of former San Jose City College students who transferred successfully.

Importantly, the entire program is offered bilingually. While most of the college’s admissions and financial aids staff are bilingual, parents can also request headsets to listen to interpreters translate presentations by non-bilingual speakers into Spanish.

About half the attendees last year check out headsets, Gonzalez says.

“We want to address parental anxiety about seeing their child go on to a four-year college,” Gonzalez says. “It’s uncharted territory for parents, and communicating in their native language is essential when talking about things like finance and having students move out. It builds trust.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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