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Putting ‘Community’ in Community College

By Rob Goldberg Jr.
PCC Media Relations Director

Of the 13 classes instructor Don King will teach in Fall 2014, eight will be part of learning communities.

WINTERVILLE—When Pitt Community College begins fall classes on Friday, it’s a safe bet that Don King will be working hard to build a ‘community’ among the students he teaches.

Three years ago, King, an Associate in General Education (AGE) instructor/advisor, packaged a pair of classes to create a ‘learning community’ for students pursuing health care careers. The goal, he said, was to help them adjust to college life and make well-informed decisions regarding their professional and academic plans.

“Bringing together that cohort back in 2011 allowed a connection to be established,” King said. “The students started to develop relationships; they started to understand the processes for succeeding in higher education.”

Cynthia Burnham, one of King’s former students, agrees, adding that she was “terrified” when she first began taking courses at PCC.

“It’s scary, and you just bite the bullet and you do it and it gets a little less scary as the days go by,” Burnham said. “And by the second semester, I knew where I was going; I knew what classes I needed to take; I knew the date I would graduate.”

King says learning communities help students build important friendships they can maintain throughout their college careers.

“The purpose of putting the classes together was to truly build a ‘community’ among the students taking them,” he said. “Learning communities can be valuable tools when it comes to student retention and morale and helping students gain confidence in and out of the classroom.”

According to King, “ACA 111: College Student Success” and “HSC 110: Orientation to Health Careers” were first packaged together for a specific student cohort during the 2011 fall semester. The students, he said, took one of the courses on Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays throughout the term.

King says that while ACA 111 requires students to participate in career development and academic planning activities, HSC 110 exposes them to the various health care majors PCC offers.

“By being able to focus on the health care student in ACA 111, I can empower those students with skills and resources that will be all about them – the future of health care,” he said. “My goal is for each student in the learning community to have better knowledge and understanding of academic planning and to know the curriculum of his or her prospective health care program very well.”

In addition to helping students learn how to study effectively and develop time management and organizational skills, former learning community student Cody Beachum says King’s classes are “sort of like a buffet with different jobs.” The courses, he explained, offer students “little bits and pieces” of each PCC health care curriculum so they can discover the one they truly want to pursue.

Burnham, who says she had “a lot of misconceptions” about health care fields when she entered college, added that King makes certain “you want what you want.”

King explains that learning communities give students opportunities to “look within themselves” and explore their career interests.

“If a pre-nursing student ends the semester still desiring to be a nurse, then I feel the learning community has been successful,” King said. “If they end the semester wanting to go into respiratory therapy instead of nursing, I also feel it has been successful. And if a student begins the semester with the goal of being a nurse but ends it wanting to be a teacher, police officer or welder, then I feel the classes have been equally successful.”

Student Beverly Dunn likened the learning community to a map showing the route to graduation.

“Coming here, I had my plan,” she said. “… Joining the learning community showed me how to execute my plan.”

Ultimately, King says, learning communities are, indeed, about helping students discover the educational pathways to achieve their goals.

“At the end of the day, that’s what we want – for them to graduate and become what they want to become,” he said.

King, who recently helped AGE Department Chair Dana Cole Parker deliver a presentation on the success of PCC’s learning communities at a national conference, said that of the 13 courses he will teach this fall, eight will be part of learning communities.