Student success remains 'main thing' at College of DuPage

It is hard to believe the new academic year at College of DuPage is already on the horizon.

We just finished celebrating all of our academic achievements, culminating with our commencement. During the ceremony, I had the great honor of presenting diplomas to 700 of the college's newest graduates.

Seeing the excitement and pride in their faces was thrilling for me. It is gratifying to know College of DuPage has been a vehicle to help them achieve their life goals.

Among the graduates was my daughter, Kadie, who earned her Associate in Arts degree. The celebration of the success of all of our graduates was incredibly memorable.

Student success is the "main thing" at College of DuPage. I speak of this often because I want to highlight for Community College District 502 residents that this is the unifying concept for everything we do, both inside and outside the classroom.

As I look ahead to the fall semester, one of our newest and most exciting strides in positioning the college to more definitively advance student success has been the recent hiring of 12 student service specialists. They are part of our ongoing, collegewide Guided Pathways initiative, which helps students choose, enter and complete a program of study that is aligned with their goals for employment and further education.

Guided Pathways is comprised of many integrated components. Student service specialists, more commonly known as "navigators," are a critically important part of the initiative.

Each navigator will have a caseload of full- and part-time students who are new to the college. Navigators will proactively coach the students through their college experience with the aim of helping them persist in their studies until their educational objectives are attained.

Because navigators are working closely with faculty and other support offices, we will be able to strategically monitor student progress to foster a campus culture of holistic student support.

For the past several months, the navigators have participated in extensive training in the techniques that lead to student persistence and ultimate success. This training has been a significant undertaking, but the importance of coaching students along their educational paths clearly warrants the investment.

I also want to tout our excellent faculty, as well as counselors and advisers, who have a direct impact on students and often guide them as they discern what paths they want to take.

One of the many strengths of College of DuPage is that our classes are small and taught by faculty with advanced degrees. We do not have lecture halls on campus. Furthermore, we have no graduate teaching assistants with instructional responsibilities.

Several of our professors have been honored recently for their outstanding instructional skills. Assistant Professor of Mathematics Rita Patel received the 2019 Early Career Teaching Award from the Illinois Section of the Mathematical Association of America. The award recognized Patel for her excellence in teaching and contributions to the Illinois mathematics community.

Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Program Coordinator Bob Clark was named Postsecondary Career and Technical Educator of the Year by the Illinois Association for Career and Technical Education. Clark is among the many COD faculty who bring hands-on experience into the classroom, as he worked in industrial maintenance and industrial refrigeration and then ran his own HVACR business before he turned to teaching.

Our 2019 College-Wide Outstanding Full-Time Faculty member, Dilyss Gallyot, started her own education at COD to pursue a career in nursing. She then spent years on the job as a nurse. Gallyot now considers teaching her gift to COD, the place that provided her with a solid educational foundation.

This past spring, we saw the results of all our efforts during a myriad of culminating events that showcased student success. From the Fashion Studies program's runway show to the Motion Picture/TV program's Animation Night, from the Photography program's student exhibit to the Graphic Design program's Portfolio Night, our students demonstrated the knowledge and skills they acquired at COD.

At the 2019 commencement ceremony, the college's outstanding graduates, Mark Littlefield Jr. and Rima Househ, spoke about the powerful impact of COD. Mark shared his experience of attending three other institutions of higher education, only to leave each one feeling dejected and unsure of what to do next.

At COD, he found his passion in Computer and Information Technology, citing his relationships with the faculty and the technology available in the classrooms. In the fall, he is transferring to the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Rima, who comes from a long line of COD graduates that includes her great uncles, mother and older sister, also was influenced by professors who took the time to work with her and discuss classwork as well as career aspirations. She is now transferring to Columbia College to complete a bachelor's degree and planning a career in international arts management.

The stories of Mark and Rima are representative of the many who succeed at COD. With the fall term starting on Monday, Aug. 19, know that College of DuPage is ready to help students achieve their goals. Student success is the college's principal objective.

• Brian Caputo is president of the College of DuPage. His column appears monthly in Neighbor.

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