Ph.D. student and Greeley native Angela Rockwell discusses the importance of building strong relationships between universities and community colleges.

What is your history or involvement with community colleges?

I have been to UNC since like the dawn of time. I did my undergrad here. I started my masters here, and after I finished my masters I was floating off in space. So, I found a job, you know, paying the bills, all that fun stuff and I quickly found that I needed to develop my database skills. And it was recommended to me many times, before I actually did it, that I take some classes at Aims Community College in Greeley. So that kind of led from one class to another class, to another class. And along the way, I kind of accumulated enough credits to where all I needed was a history class and boom, I got an associate’s. So, my academic path instead of it being the traditional associate's to bachelor's to master's was bachelor's to master's back to associates. And while I was there, it was so much fun, I got another associate’s. So that was definitely a solid experience for me that, oddly enough, helped develop me into the Ph.D. program here at UNC. So not a linear trajectory but it got me to where I am.

What was eye opening about going from a bachelors to a masters? Back to... I shouldn't even say back to it, but to an associate’s and then to a Ph.D.

The eye-opening part was the, the difference of flavor I guess at a community college. I had taken some classes at Aims along the way, mostly like a Tai Chi, photography, nothing really academically or career focused. So when I was actually there for the nitty-gritty, not just for the fun stuff, it was a different exposure for me. The students were a different blend. They were mostly nontraditional students. One of my classmates, I was completely jealous, was 16! And I'm like, wow, I would have loved to have been that focused on my career and know what I wanted to do when I grew up, when I was 16, which completely wasn't me. But, he had a plan and he was doing it. He was making it work for him.

And then a lot of my classmates also were returning students where they were changing careers. There was a program around that time where people who had been laid off from work were receiving some additional financial aid to retrain into a more employable career. So, I had some classmates who are in that, that group as well so that was the other end of the age spectrum. But more community focused I guess at UNC, my classmates have been and continue to be very similar to me in age. And even though I'm a little bit older than some of my fellow Ph.D. students, I'm not so old as to be noticeable. It's really more of a, like a little bit of a jet lag here and there, whereas the community college, it was very obvious and the different interests that come with different ages.

I would say the theme is community. What sort of community or culture do you see within UNC as well as Aims or should I say Greeley as a whole?

Definitely at UNC the community that I've experienced just from my masters to the doctorate and how I've kind of changed professionally and as a person, I'm more aware of the diversity here. That has kind of made me happy. Greeley is still, very Greeley, but UNC is kind of bucking that mold a little bit where we're attracting students from different ethnic and gender identity backgrounds from different communities, even within Colorado, that have different cultures, which is exciting and just the growth and I've seen in communicating and sharing that. Where, there may have been other people in my immediate environment before, but I wasn't as aware of it, and now it's really kind of shining through. And Greeley is catching on with that too. A little bit slower because they're bigger entity — it takes them longer to make these changes. But, it's exciting — it's kind of, I think definitely heading in the right direction. Not as fast as I'd like, but we're on the track.

Community colleges have both the academic track, so the A.A., the associate of arts or the A.A.S., associates of applied science that are really designed for students to come on to a university and complete a four-year degree. But they also have career technical programs. Generally, the A.A.S., associates of applied science, and those are everything from a two-year degree in welding to L.P.N., so a two-year nursing degree. There are a few others that are trade focused, HVAC, plumbing, carpentry... So they have more of an immediate reward and it's really good for nontraditional students who had outside commitments, taking care of families, young children, older parents or who have work schedules that keep them from attending the usual 8:00 AM to maybe 1:00 PM class schedule that a university really pushes. So, it addresses kind of the rest of the community that a large institution like UNC really doesn't have the mobility to address.

What sort of bridges have you seen between say a community college and a college or university?

A lot of the bridges that I've seen are more of the networking kind of advising within the two year. Definitely some marketing of course. If a student wants to go to university but doesn't necessarily feel academically prepared to start off at UNC right after high school, a two year is an excellent option. It's a little bit lower price tag and a little bit smaller class sizes. So, they get that confidence and they develop the academic skills that they need to really succeed at a four-year institution. So that way they're not coming to a university, trying it, not succeeding as much as they'd like, and then completely getting burnt out on it at the beginning.

One thing that really has me excited is the strengthening connection between UNC and Aims to help the students who complete at the Greeley campus of Aims, and the other campuses than Greeley... keep them with that momentum and get them to UNC and kind of complete them here. I'm a little selfish. I think if they attend in Greeley they should complete in Greeley. Other institutions are other institutions. They can get their students elsewhere. But I really think that  starting in Greeley or the Greeley community cause it’s Weld county really keeping us together as a, as a unit, I think it's kind of nice.

My name is Angela Rockwell and I am a graduate student, a Ph.D. In the ASRM program.

As part of the ASRM program, I'm learning more about institutional assessment and program effectiveness. And I kind of wish I got to see behind the curtain a little bit more when I was at Aims so that I could see how that magic is happening — how those students are being propelled onto complete. And then here at UNC, kind of how they're being motivated along to complete their bachelor's degrees. Like how, what, what systems are in place, how are we assessing their effectiveness to really make sure that the students really achieved the success that they want. And, and the, the coursework in the research methods side of ASRM is definitely giving me a very long wish list of things I'd love to know. I'm probably never going to know them though. It's, it's going to be a little hard to really decide when it comes time to pick my topics.

They just give you more questions to ask.

Yes, yes. I want to know, I want everything to work perfectly and I want students to succeed and I want everything to just magically happen, but that's not the way it works.

Read more about UNC and Aims Community College from the Greeley Tribune

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