The Power of Learning – Especially Now

Over the weekend, I made time to go through my briefcase and read two months of accumulated reports, news and journal articles. The articles covered topics such as: strategies to successfully emerge from the pandemic, capitalizing on the digital age, student and faculty  perceptions of guided pathways, barriers to social and economic mobility, and the history of inequalities in higher education. Through hundreds of pages of text, the fundamental and foundational need to focus all of our efforts on learning clearly emerged as the “lifeline” through all topics. It should not be surprising that resolute and unwavering commitment to student learning is the corrective and accelerating remedy to the varied article thesis questions and challenges.  

Several years ago, I heard Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College in Florida (Aspen Prize Winner for Community College Excellence), share that his first decision as president was to focus one-hundred percent effort and college resources around the student learning experience. In 1998, PVCC made a similar organizational commitment as we began our journey to “become a more learning-centered college.” Fundamental to this commitment was the adoption of Indicators of a Learning Centered College – take a few minutes to refresh on the first four indicators. As I’ve shared many times, a meta-analysis of the student success literature points to consistent and scaled execution of these core indicators as the best predictors of student persistence and completion. 

After finishing the marathon reading Sunday night, I asked myself if PVCC was still capable of being the premier learning-centered community college in America. Can we, given the stresses and strains of learning and working in the virtual world and the real and present organizational “innovation tensions” (of implementing Futures and TACT recommendations), maintain exceptional focus on maximizing the student learning experience? Can we live up to one of the core pillars of our vision – imparting the gift of lifelong learning? Can we demonstrate that active and engaged learning is the best chance to close educational attainment gaps? Interestingly, when the stresses and strains of thriving in the virtual work world set in, it is by answering YES to these questions, I find presence, exceptional focus, and a renewed sense of energy. It is liberating to know that a focus on learning can filter out other pandemic related intrusions. 

As we move into the final stretch of the fall semester, please continue to reach out and connect with our students. Please also know that I am aware of the “heavy lifts” required to be successful in the virtual learning space – thank you for your individual and collective efforts to “go above and beyond” to bring learning alive!

Breaking Down Boundaries

While I know that Hispanic Heritage Month officially ended on October 15 – perhaps “closing a calendar window” for comment or observation, I wanted to take this opportunity to suggest that tributes to cultural or ethnic heritage cannot be limited to a thirty-day pop up-like event. An origin of heritage months is likely, to some extent, traced to the absence, misrepresentation, or disparagement of a selected cultural body of knowledge, history, and ethos. Hopefully in the very near future, mainstream American history will fully embed the diverse contributions of all cultures – until then all heritage months remain important. So, as we look back on Hispanic Heritage Month 2020 (and as we begin LGBTQ History Month), please take a few moments to reflect on these insights.

The Sonoran Desert where Arizona’s geographical coordinates are drawn, has a long and rich history and influence from a broadly defined Hispanic culture – long preceding U.S. determined state and national boundaries.  Given the current immigration climate, it is important to acknowledge the presence of barriers and boundaries as literal and metaphorical objects of Hispanic Heritage Month. Carlos Santana once wrote “Un día no habrá fronteras, ni banderas, ni países, y el único pasaporte será el corazón” (One day there will be no borders, no flags, and no countries and the only passport will be the heart.) In a world dominated by nationalistic constructs and design, I fully understand that Santana’s view is romantic and best serves as a frame of reference intended to influence a humanistic lens and cultural understanding. Acknowledging that the heritage of Hispanic culture in Arizona is inexorably tied to real and perceived borders gives permission for further study in this context.

Augmenting the gift of living in Arizona that affords us daily exposure and immersion in the Hispanic culture, is the opportunity to break down our own intellectual and affective barriers and boundaries through pursuits such as reading and reflection. Prose and written narrative provide insight into past times that reveal a deeper present day understanding. Below are books that have helped sharpen my acuity of Hispanic culture.

  • Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor
  • Thirteen Senses by Victor Villasenor
  • The Devil’s Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Carmelo by Sandra Cisneros
  • Bless Me Ultima by Rodolfo Anaya

With the full acknowledgement that “heritage months” are still wonderful means to celebrate our diverse cultures, I encourage you to break down artificial calendar boundaries and find time throughout each month to learn more about the amazing diversity this country has to offer. I’ve shared nine books that have shaped my understanding and appreciation of the Hispanic culture. I encourage you to start your own reading list and being to challenge your own fronteras.