Telling the Story
By President Scott Evenbeck, Guttman Community College, CUNY
Telling the story of Stella and Charles Guttman Community College is sharing the story of our students. We first welcomed students on August 20, 2012, gathering in the New York Public Library to launch the college and to celebrate the opening of our first Summer Bridge program, funded by the Robin Hood Foundation. This last year we celebrated our first two commencements: one for those who started in that first class in 2012 and the second for the students who entered in 2012 and finished in three years, along with those who entered in 2013 and finished in two years.
The college was launched after years of careful study, driven by a concept paper outlining how to do college differently, and particularly how to structure a college committed to the low income, first generation, and diverse students coming to community college in New York City. The planners did a great job, incorporating many of the features highlighted in the recent book Redesigning Community Colleges by Tom Bailey and his colleagues at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. Our students follow what is described as a guided pathway: all in cohort groups, all taking the same city-centric and “hands-on” courses in the first years of study and then moving to one of five majors in the second year.
In their aspirations, however, the planners underestimated the model’s potential for student success. They set out to achieve a three-year graduation rate of 35%. The rate for our first class is 49%. This is in part because the students are engaged in their learning. Faculty and staff—working with a corps of peer mentors and collaborating in instructional teams—have done a terrific job of fostering the students’ innate curiosity and inquisitiveness.
The campus has many visitors wanting to learn about the model of education here at 50 West 40th Street. We do our best to share the story. When I bid farewell to visitors at the end of the day, I ask what was best about the day. The answer is nearly always “the students.” Students thrive in an environment that builds on their strengths and where high expectations are articulated and supported. This is as apparent to our guests as it is to us.
Some of my favorite days at CUNY are the Board meetings when distinguished faculty are introduced and offer remarks. This world-class faculty nearly always talk about how much they treasure teaching CUNY students. Their heart-felt commitment to students is in the CUNY tradition combining access and excellence. It is such a gift for us at CUNY’s newest college to build on that tradition. The story of this new college is the story of its students. We make a big deal of our Guttman Learning Outcomes, calling them our GLOs. Faculty and staff talk about how our students “glo.” We will keep listening to and learning from them, letting them light the path forward. #