Austin — Following the excellence awards presentation at the 36th Annual National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) conference this past Sunday, keynote speaker Isa Adney talked with Diverse about motivating community college leaders and tackling issues particular to underrepresented and underprivileged students. Adney is the author of the recently released book Community College Success: How to Finish with Friends, Scholarships, Internships, and the Career of Your Dreams.
Q: Do you consider yourself a motivational speaker?
A: Yes, but not in the traditional sense. [I’m] not in this to make a career out of public speaking. I am thinking about how to inspire change so students can benefit from what community colleges can offer.
Q: What feedback are you receiving from faculty members who are just learning about your commitment to student success at community colleges?
A: I was just telling NISOD Director Dr. Edward Leach that I was so excited to speak to this audience because, here, I was able to speak to faculty members that ‘get it.’ They are the kind that go above and beyond, who understand the role they play in students’ lives outside of just transmitting information that is required. One faculty member questioned why top colleges are serving and supporting their students in droves, yet we are not doing that for our most needy students. It was nice to be among kindred spirits who care about low-income, first-generation students that need programs and services just like other students at those top colleges.
Q: About half of the low-income, minority college student population nationally is enrolled in a community college and only about 20 percent of these students graduate or transfer to a four-year institution. How important is it to improve these figures?
A: Although low-income, first-generation potential students should strive for education [at] the nation’s top colleges, half the population should not be written off. The language needs to change. Community colleges should not be considered a lost cause.
Q: This fall, you will start teaching in the classroom yourself at the community college level. Will this experience allow you to better speak to student concerns and implement solutions?
A: I have some administrative experience, mostly in student life and admissions. I often served as the liaison between students and administration. Entering the classroom [allows me] to understand the needs of students from a faculty perspective. I am a firm believer in immersive experiences, and this way I can be a part of the solutions as opposed to complaining about the problems. Secondarily, I want to have an opportunity to have a direct impact on students in the classroom and be influential on their path, just as I had so many people help me along the way.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about community colleges?
A: That they are a place for slackers, people that did not do well in high school [and] are not smart and not ambitious. That is what motivated me to do what I do. I internalized that stereotype and had many teary-eyed moments in advising centers as a student and thought I was a failure before I even got started. Going through it myself, I realized that was not the case and the students I interacted with were intelligent and were at community colleges because of financial necessity. Without community colleges, there are students who would never have the chance to learn and contribute to society. That is where the American dream still exists and community college is the conduit. All the inequality data terrifies me and [the] American dream feels more elusive and community colleges are that hope.
Jamal E. Mazyck can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @jmbeyond7.