Denée Pescarmona Shares her Passion for Learning and Student Successby on Sep 10, 2018
New Vice President of Academic Affairs Denée Pescarmona joined Gavilan College mid-July of this year. She shared her thoughts about joining Gavilan College.
Gavilan, and its communities, are much smaller than College of the Canyons. What drew you to Gavilan?
When I first interviewed at College of the Canyons as a faculty member 16 years ago it was a smaller, very different school. When they asked me why I wanted to join, I said potential.
I am going to say the same thing now. Gavilan as a campus is on the verge, on the cusp, with potential here. It has quality faculty, location and brings together old and new. Approaching its centennial, it serves a very old community along with the emerging Silicon Valley reach down here. The potential, to be able to play a role in what the next 20 years of this campus looks like, is exciting to me. I am a loyal person. I was 16 years at Canyons, I'll be at least 16 years here. What do the next 20 years of the of the next 100 years look like?
I see myself very much in sync with who I am personally and what the campus is like. I think of myself as a quiet achiever. I think Gavilan is a quiet achiever. They do their business, serve its community and its students really well, and I identify with that.
Peer mentors greet the new Vice President of Academic Affairs in the Welcome Center.
(l-r) Skye Gonzalez, Michele Castro, VPAA Denée Pescarmona, Jacob Spaulding, Angelica Johnson,
Student Life Coordinator Ryan Shook, Marisella Olmos, Mary Salmeron, Elizabeth Williams.
What changes did you see at College of the Canyons that parallel what's happening here?
We saw economic ebbs and flows, the decline of career ed. Then, with Strong Workforce, the reemergence of the value of career ed. Finally, the funding from the State and Chancellor's Office. Career ed isn't cheap, but it is critical to the new workforce. Without it, we're not going to have the skilled workers we need. Here at Gavilan the reemergence is exciting. With Career Education Dean Sherrean Carr, there's a willingness to try new things, be open, develop new programs that serve our population and our industries.
North of us, the housing market is expensive and impacted. Talented people are going to be coming down here, starting their own businesses and industries. Gavilan needs to be poised and ready to meet them, to train their workers, and to be a partner in developing our students who will be their future workers. These are shared responsibilities that will better the communities of Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Hollister, and the people up and down Highway 101 and Highway 25.
If we do our job right, Gavilan College will be the vehicle for economic and social mobility. We change families, not just individuals.
We developed the Promise Program at Canyons, and we are looking at ways to develop it at Gavilan. It's more than college for free, and some people have a bad taste about that idea. It's not just free college. Done right, it is entry to guided pathways, it's student success programs, it touches and supports the lives of students and their families. Especially for students who are first in their families to attend college, it opens the door to education as well as to services they haven't had before.
How do you see exploring and fulfilling your role as VPAA?
I am a mover. You'll see me walking around campus. I want to see all the learning spaces, see where our students sit, see where our teachers teach. I want to know what that looks like. What is life like every day for our students, staff, faculty? How does it feel for a community member to walk on this campus the first time? What do they see that I wouldn't necessarily see?
I am a learner – a visual learner, a kinesthetic learner. One of my favorite things to say is 'I don't know.' An aphorism I have heard: The minute you say 'I know' you stop learning. So, I'm not going to stop learning. That's my core and why I'm here. It's about the learning and changing the landscape for our students.
Theater instructor Cherise Mantia, Child Development Chair Pat Henrickson and VPAA Denée
Pescarmona talk during a break out session at Fall Convocation.
What are some of the challenges you see?
With accreditation, I am extremely grateful for the work done, led by Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Fran Lozano and faculty Ken Wagman. The team has done an excellent job putting the self-study together. We have a sense of who our visiting team lead will be. The Academic Senate approved the institutional self-evaluation report, and the Board of Trustees will be prepared. Gavilan College has a great tradition with accreditation. I am quite confident and see no change in that pattern.
Every college has its own challenges, but the bigger challenges we face are systemic. There is a brand new funding formula. We have no idea what that will mean for us or how it will play out. This is not unique to Gavilan.
I think, system-wide, we all have initiative fatigue. There's been a lot of one-time money delivered to colleges, telling them: fix problems that have existed since the inception of higher education in medieval times. Fix equity issues. Fix basic skills issues. This idea that throwing one-time money at problems that are decades, sometimes centuries old, doesn't necessarily solve the problem. It invites you to solve bits and pieces without taking a whole look at what you need to do system wide to make real, lasting change.
So, that's my challenge.
Where does that lead us?
A research brief from 2011, Student Support Redefined, reported on the results of focus groups statewide of hundreds of students. The study revealed six key support factors. To be successful, students said they needed to be directed, focused, nurtured, engaged, connected and valued.
Students don't want to waste time, they want focus and direction. Relationships matter and connections matter. Students need to be connected to teachers, to staff, to the campus. They need to feel valued and nurtured, and they want to be stimulated and engaged.
Students don't see org charts, they see people. They don't know what the different VPs do, but they know and remember the people on campus who help them, whether it's a custodian who helps a student locate something or a peer mentor who explains financial aid applications.
If we do Guided Pathways well and proper, it is not an initiative. It is a framework for how we change the way the college works. Which could be the scariest thing you can think of. Terrifying to change something, an entire structure, you are so used to working with. But it's also exciting.
The way to overcome the fear is to ask folks what they are already doing to help students succeed and move on to their next step. And we have pockets of innovation, pockets of emergence. How do you take programs that are wildly successful, like EOPS, and scale it up to serve all the students? How do you take Promise Programs and scale them up? We know what works because we have programs that work. We have folks who are already doing the work. And we have evidence that shows it works.
The challenge of Guided Pathways is bringing that to scale.
We will always be looking at new things. In this whole learning process we will try something, parts might work or fail, and we will learn from it. We will try something new, and we will find the things that work. Each college will have different things that work. We have to resist checking off boxes, seeing this as another initiative. While there are certain basic characteristics, our students are our students. Our culture is our culture. Guided Pathways will work for us, our communities and our students. I don't know exactly what that will look like, but I am excited to find out. I am excited to ask people what they think it looks like, with a lot of inquiry and investigation.
VPAA Denée Pescarmona with presenters Librarian Jillian Wilson, ASGC rep Brianna Everett
and Philosophy instructor Andrew DeLunas following the Guided Pathways presentation.
Pescarmona has oversight of the academic divisions of Gavilan College: Liberal Arts and Sciences, Career Education, Community Education, and Noncredit Instruction. Her selection was announced in a recent press release.