Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, became an ATD Leader College of Distinction this year after making significant improvements in student success and narrowing equity gaps among student populations. At DREAM 2021, faculty representatives from Sinclair presented “Planting the Seeds: Growing Our Own to Remove Racial Inequities for Faculty and Students.” During the session, faculty shared information about some of the programs that have made racial equity central to faculty recruitment and student success, as well as strategies for attendees to take back to their own colleges.
Pathways for faculty
Established in 1991, the Grow Our Own program (GOO) is a faculty recruitment initiative that offers candidates the opportunity to gain teaching experience while pursuing advanced academic studies. It was designed to address equity gaps in higher education, where underrepresented faculty are not hired proportionally and where pervasive biases affect hiring decisions, professional development, and sense of belonging in academia.
Each year, Sinclair strategically recruits candidates and selects up to five faculty per year. GOO faculty are all hired at the rank of instructor and placed on a full-time tenure track with benefits, with the expectation that they will complete a master’s degree within three years. During those three years, GOO faculty are provided support and mentoring through the Grow Our Own Mentor Committee. Since many GOO participants enter the program with little to no experience in teaching or higher education, “We find that mentoring and building support systems is critical for retention,” said Jennifer Kostic, associate provost at Sinclair.
As an example of the value the Grow Our Own program has brought to Sinclair for the past twenty years, Kostic told DREAM attendees about Dr. Anthony Ponder. He was a GOO participant in the first cohort in 1991 and joined the math faculty. He went on to become department chair of Mathematics, and is now the dean of Science, Mathematics, and Engineering.
Nurturing diversity in STEM
While Sinclair built the Grow Our Own program from the ground up, the college also participates in national equity initiatives. The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) is a program funded by the National Science Foundation that aims to increase diversity in STEM fields, particularly by supporting the retention and success of underrepresented minorities taking STEM courses in colleges and universities. Sinclair is a member of the Ohio LSAMP Alliance along with six universities and three other community colleges. “One of the things that I can personally appreciate about being part of this alliance is that we support one another and share best practices to ensure that we are really helping our students and meeting their needs,” said Marita Abram, associate biology professor and program coordinator for LSAMP at Sinclair.
Students with a 2.25 GPA or higher, and who meet demographic requirements, are eligible to participate in Sinclair’s LSAMP program and to benefit from the wide range of opportunities the program provides. These include undergraduate research opportunities at partnering four-year institutions, scholarships, career and academic advising, and mentoring from peers, faculty, and staff. The program’s success is evident in the success rates of its participants: Showing data from 2018 and 2019 academic terms, Abram shared with session attendees that LSAMP scholars outperformed not only other minority students but the entire student body in key metrics including retention, completion, and GPA. One LSAMP Scholar has since gone on to pursue her doctorate in bioengineering at Harvard University, one example of how, in Abram’s words, “LSAMP matters and LSAMP makes a difference.”
Lifting as they climb
The Urban African American Mentor Program (UAAMP) is an equity initiative that was developed as a direct result of Sinclair’s work with Achieving the Dream. In 2008, after data analysis showed that African American students had the lowest graduation rates at the college, a team of faculty conducted qualitative research and found that the top desire among African American students, faculty, and staff was more connection. From these findings, Sinclair piloted UAAMP in 2009, a program that connects African American students with mentor teams to support their success at the college.
“UAAMP provides students with a safe place to connect with other African American students and mentors, contributing to an added sense of community and belonging,” said Kelly Smith, associate professor of communication.
Mentor teams are made of volunteer staff and faculty from multiple departments across campus, and students are intentionally matched with teams who have relevant experience to their desired career path. This means that mentees do not only receive support while they’re at Sinclair, but often form long-lasting relationships with their mentors, leading to long-term networking and career development opportunities.
In 2008, data told a clear story: Sinclair could do more to meet the needs of its African American students. Now, there is a different story: Students who participate in UAAMP are two times more likely to graduate than those who do not.
Programs like these are strong examples of the transformative, equity-centered work being done across the ATD Network, and particularly within Leader Colleges of Distinction. Learn more about the LCODs here.