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Sinclair Community College Meets Students Where they Are

Sinclair Community College will be breaking graduation records this year as a result of intentional practices, policies and initiatives that promote equitable student outcomes, particularly for minority and low-income students.

Dr. Steve JohnsonDr. Steve Johnson

This Sunday, more than 1,300 minority students will be graduating, in addition to a record number of 2,103 low-income students as a result of the college’s participation in student success organizations like Achieving the Dream and League for Innovation, disaggregation of student data and offering of tailored support services to various groups on campus. Among the graduating class, more than 520 African-American males will be earning degrees or certificates, a 78 percent increase since 2018, officials said.

“This year is the first year ever in our modern history where the number of African American males graduating and the number of African American males [earning] certificates and degrees outstrip African American females,” said Dr. Steven L. Johnson, president and CEO of Sinclair Community College. “And the number of African-American males completing successfully exceeds the number of all the other minority categories combined.”

Johnson said these outcomes are a result of more than 20 years of work to move the college from merely an access institution to one that champions student success and completion. In that time period, Sinclair became a Vanguard Learning College, served as a pilot institution working with the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), participated in the College and Career Transitions Initiative under the League for Innovation and was one of the early member colleges within the Achieving the Dream (ATD) network.

“That’s when we started to look at disaggregated data of student success,” Johnson said of joining ATD. “We started looking at how are our African American students doing versus all of the other students? How are our Asian students doing and Hispanic students doing? And how many do we have? How well are they doing? And we were horrified.”

As leaders began to work towards solutions to address equity gaps in student outcomes, the college was selected to serve as a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Completion By Design college.

“That gave us a real boost, and we were starting to get more comfortable and better with the idea that we need to be about student success,” Johnson said. “We’re going to make a way or find a way. We can’t treat all students equally. We need to treat students the way they need to be treated for where they’re at.”

Analyzing the disaggregated data helped Sinclair leaders determine what supports they could put in place for groups like African-Americans, student parents, veterans and military members and more. The college implemented early alert systems, special wraparound services and put more data into the hands of faculty and staff, Johnson said.

One of those initiatives included the African American Male Initiative (AAMI), which aims to improve Black males’ yearly retention and provide them with academic, professional, social or emotional support.

Kali Muhammad, a hospitality management and culinary arts major from Chicago, is the outgoing president of AAMI. Following graduation this Sunday, he will be working as a catering chef for the Dayton Masonic Center.

Muhammad said that when he first arrived at Sinclair, he was not involved much in campus life beyond coursework.

“The first program that reached out to me outside of the hospitality program was the African American Male Initiative,” Muhammad said, adding that although his grades were already good, “the support, plus the on-campus friendship and involvement came through being involved in the AAMI. Without that, I’d still be up here doing my classes and going home right after.”

Muhammad notes that AAMI coordinators Marc DeWitt and De’Shawna Yamini also played critical roles in helping him build his class schedule, especially as a first-generation student.

“Outside of my mother knowing the little bit she knew about FAFSA … I was not really informed on how to build a proper class schedule, how your credits work or the college experience itself [overall],” he said. “That’s why the AAMI has been that form of academic advising that I can go to. I honestly go to Mark and De’Shawna before I go to any other department.”

Sinclair’s additional services such as the writing lab and transfer and career services have also been helpful for students like Natasha Wiggins.

The Writing Lab “helped me get the format down as far as touching up on a few things,” she said. “By utilizing the writing lab, I got a 98 percent in English I.”

Wiggins, a Human Services and Behavioral Health major focusing on addiction services, will be graduating this year with plans to go on to Indiana Wesleyan University for social work.

When she came to Sinclair, she was about nine months sober and initially believed she was not hirable after being out of school for some time. However, she wanted meaning and purpose in her life, she said.

The Human Services and Behavioral Health program “gave me an opportunity to get some credentialing that would let me work in the field that I wanted to be in, which I work under my CDCA [Chemical Dependency Counseling Assistance certification] right now. I will be testing for my licensure in addiction counseling in May,” Wiggins said of her role as clinical assistant at Sojourner Recovery Services.

She will soon be promoted to a clinician within the next month.

“I’ve been able to step up throughout my agency while I’ve been going to school and the professors in my program really helped and guided me,” Wiggin said. “Without that, I wouldn’t be where I am. If I need self-care, they took me in a conference room and said, ‘What’s going on?’ They cried with me. That’s my Sinclair family and I would love to get a master’s degree one day and come back and teach. That’s my dream.”

Michael Carter, chief diversity officer and senior advisor to the president at Sinclair, said building a culture of inclusiveness to support students has “to be led from the top.”

“For things to happen when the president stands behind these efforts, everyone gets behind it,” he urged.

Carter added that Sinclair has mirrored supports for African American males for other minority groups, including intrusive advising, student meet n’ greets and more, all while keeping in mind that “equity is providing each student with what they need.”

He is developing a proposal for an initiative to work with institutional leaders, instructors, deans, chairs and more as champions for equitable student success.

“We can be hurt or offended by the data, but it is what it is, and what are the things that we need to do?” Carter said. “It’s building this culture and nonnegotiable as far as who we are as a college. We’re developing that right now.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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