Community colleges are the underdog of American higher education, but they needn’t be. With more than 2.1 million students on 113 campuses, the California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the United States.
First-generation students often lack the skills, networks, and information to successfully navigate their first year of a four-year university—at least I did. Community college eases the transition into college life and culture. I embarked on my academic journey at Ohlone College in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay.
Ohlone became a sort of learning sanctuary for me—one that was continuously nurtured by faculty. Learning became more about exchanging ideas through discussion and less about the grade on a paper. It became more about asking questions than knowing all of the answers. College became less intimidating and I wholeheartedly embraced my newfound sense of responsibility to think critically.
The skills I walked away with from Ohlone now pour onto my junior year at San José State University. I’m pursuing a degree in Communication Studies and a concentration in Creative Writing. My dream is to be a writer who connects, empowers and advocates for women all around the world!
Student writers need technology—from the notepad on their phones to the Internet. The volume of research available to writers has revolutionized information gathering; with that, comes great responsibility. Googling a topic does not equate research.
Ohlone’s librarian K.G. Greenstein always advocated for students’ ability to gather quantitative and qualitative research through Ohlone’s database of information. Even when certain materials were unavailable to students, she would find ways to give us access to scholarly journals. K.G. explains, “it’s my job to gain access to information you and other students might need.” K.G. helped me access materials I needed on multiple occasions.
Information databases, admittedly, were not one of Ohlone’s strongest points, despite the school’s amazing librarians. San José State University leveled the playing field for me by offering access to different information technologies through the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, and other programs on campus.
The library is a collaboration between the city of San José and San José State University, with an annual budget of $40 million. MLK librarian Deborah Estreicher says, “students are welcomed to schedule reference interviews for help gathering material or formulating plans for research.” More resources, of course, entails access to many more collections:
In addition the collections available through SJSU MLK Library, other organizations have provided me with vital access to different information technology.
I am a fiction editor for Reed Magazine at SJSU, the oldest literary journal west of the Mississippi. As a fiction editor, I have had to become proficient in various communication programs that are highly valuable for writers and editors. Submittable, for instance, is a cloud-based submissions managing system that accepts, reviews, and makes decisions on any kind of digital content. While it might be a simple system in terms of usability, access to this technology is key in submitting to literary journals.
I am a Fall 2016 BRAVEN Fellow at SJSU, too. BRAVEN is a leadership and career accelerator program that aims to create our next generation of diverse leaders. With the support of our employer partners and through a 15-week accelerator course and the post-course experience, students gain the skills and networks to land high impacting jobs within six-months of graduation.
One of the most important skills first-generation students lack is networking as a tool to launch or advance one’s career after college. BRAVEN helps students develop strong LinkedIn profiles as a way to build a professional community online. While this might seem very self-explanatory to many, it is not for some. It can be intimidating to create a LinkedIn account and very difficult to get it right. Last semester, BRAVEN helped me join the 39 million students who have LinkedIn accounts around the world. I now have connections with content contributors at Google and Intel who have offered me their guidance.
I can best describe my education thus far as the following: the faculty at Ohlone taught me to cultivate deeper and more constructive thinking while SJSU provided me with the access to information technology crucial to my education and future career.
Over 67% of California community college students are people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and roughly 53% are female. Underrepresented students have a large impact on the American education system and workforce. At community colleges, students should have more access to information technology as a key competency for transferring and starting a career.
As I approach my senior year, I can’t help but to question: How does a first-generation Latina writer prepare herself to enter the competitive workforce? By embracing technology as a means to level the playing field in the competitive Silicon Valley workforce.