Student success and resource centers offer myriad ways to get involved

Dr. Mary A. Papazian

Recently, I had the privilege to attend and offer welcome remarks at the official Grand Opening of SJSU’s newest Student Success and Resource Centers.

For years, we have offered college success centers where students can receive academic advising for their major areas of study or for general education. But more recently, we created three culturally-relevant centers to provide more targeted services to our Chicanx/Latinx, African-American/Black, and undocumented – or “UndocuSpartan” – student populations.

Speaking at the official Grand Opening of SJSU’s newest Student Success and Resource Centers.

The centers have gotten off to a strong start, largely due to the efforts of Hector Perea and Zhane Gay, the Associated Students student leaders who co-authored the 2016 resolutions in support of creating these centers and thus set in motion the steps that were taken to bring their vision to reality. Our Student Advocates for Higher Education (S.A.H.E.) also played a key role in advancing the needs of our undocumented Spartans.

So many of our current and former students epitomize what we hope to achieve in terms of student success, and I cannot thank them enough to setting the bar high for what our students can achieve when they lead with their values.

In my remarks that evening, I conveyed a very important message, which was that as successful as the centers have been, the work is only just beginning. We still need help from faculty, staff, and students and other members of our campus community.

The Centers are small. Resources and budgets are not as robust as we would like them to be. Staff is stretched thin.

But what we do have going for us is “Spartan Power.” And that means 35,000 students and thousands more faculty, staff members, and other supporters.

How can you help? The first step is to connect with any of three directors about how you can be involved. I know that any of them gladly will recommend a way for you to support their efforts.

Perhaps it is just a matter of attending events. Consider bringing along a friend or two. Maybe there is a volunteer role you might play. We are in this together, and we need our students to see for themselves that we are here for them and dedicated to their success.

And believe me, there is plenty happening this year where your participation can make a difference!

The African-American/Black Student Success Center soon will start work that we hope will lead to the establishment this year of a Peer Mentoring program. That program will support the CSU Graduation Initiative 2025 meant to increase graduation rates and close the achievement gap.

The African-American/Black Student Success Center also hopes to work with International Education to increase participation in study abroad programs. The International Education team is turning into a great partner, as they may also help connect us with Historically-Black Colleges and Universities on some domestic exchanges.

With the UndocuSpartan Resource Center, this is an especially important year. One of the enduring values at San José State is our commitment to social justice and human dignity and to ensuring that our students play a positive role in helping to shed light on the critical issues of our time. The university is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the two San José State students (Tommie Smith and John Carlos) and their medal stand protest at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, which was really a statement in support of human rights and dignity.

Lilly Pinedo Gangai, program director for the Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center, thanks members of the Writing Center student staff during this year’s Chicanx/Latinx Fall Welcome. (Photo courtesy of Nanzi Muro)

Our UndocuSpartan Resource Center is a vital entity here on our campus for providing holistic support and resources to undocumented students and the campus community. The Center helps to create spaces where students and allies can have dialogue and learn about topics that pertain to immigration and access to educational opportunities.

SJSU’s Academic Senate recently passed – unanimously – a Sense of the Senate Resolution that offers a formal roadmap for the campus community on how we can go about serving and assisting undocumented Spartans.

A priority for our Chicanx/Latinx Student Success Center this year is to create and strengthen a sense of cultural and academic place for Chicanx/Latinx students by offering a dedicated space focused on conocimiento – community and relationship building.

The Center also has plans to develop thoughtful partnerships in order to create effective communication strategies for engaging and educating the campus community about Chicanx/Latinx student success. One tactic I find particularly interesting is the Center’s plans to utilize the “Spartan Connect” technology tool to track CLSSC student engagement and operationalize strategy through targeted and intentional interventions.

Finally, the powerful medal stand protest that took place at the 1968 Olympic Games is not the only human rights anniversary we are celebrating this year.

1968 also was the year that thousands of Chicano high school students walked out of their schools to protest a legacy of school segregation and inferior education.

The Chicano movement was the largest and most widespread civil rights and empowerment movement by Mexican-Americans in the United States at that time, and Chicano students at San José State and throughout Santa Clara County were active participants.

This past weekend, I had the honor of speaking at an event, organized by San José State alumni and community organizers, that commemorated those events from 1968 and the enduring legacy they created for the Chicanx/Latinx communities. The Chicano Student Movement here at SJSU was an outgrowth of the national movement and led to the first Chicano Educational Opportunity Program here on campus and also in the State of California. Saturday evening’s event was a fitting tribute, as former college students – now elders – remembered and reminisced on their personal and group history of that era, and talked about their support of the current generation of activists for social change.

Ultimately, our Student Success Centers and Resource Center are about helping our students achieve and realize their potential. The CSU’s Office of the Chancellor recently hosted the Graduation Initiative 2025 Symposium, and plenty of good news was shared about current graduation rates.

The CSU’s equity gap last year based on race/ethnicity/underrepresented minorities – URMS – (which, for the CSU, is defined as Latinx, African American, and Native American) was 12.2 percent between URMS and non-URMS, but went down to 10.5 percent. For SJSU, the gap decreased from 13.5 percent to 10.5 percent. The goal is to eliminate the gap entirely by 2025. With our Student Success and Resource Centers and other collaborative strategies, I believe we can get there.

So, again, please continue to be involved. The Student Success and Resource Centers, as effective as they are, cannot succeed on their own. They best are utilized as consultants and can help us when we need to identify ways more effectively to reach out to students. They can enhance our collective efforts; they cannot be the only ones leading the charge.

Congratulations again to all of those individuals who have contributed to the successes of our student success centers and resource center. You are doing important and impactful work.