When one asks Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian what the 2019-20 school year looks like, she doesn't hesitate: "It's going to be our best year yet."
Frankly, there is plenty going on this year that might make it the college's strongest year to date. Enrollment continues to grow, educational opportunities are more readily available to different groups of students and the campus itself is expanding.
Christian shared with The Californian several initiatives and projects she is looking forward to this school year.
Q: How have the first few days of school been?
A: BC’s Welcome Week, the first week of the 2019-20 academic year, has been full of activity and excitement for the year ahead — classes starting, students meeting faculty and staff and learning about the support services and other opportunities at Bakersfield College that help make their journey to college completion a successful one.
I always feel inspired hearing the heartfelt stories from faculty returning to the classroom, from students returning to campus and students arriving at BC for their very first time on a college campus. Samantha Pulido, our Student Body president, was speaking for over 37,000 BC students on Opening Day as she shared her immediate goals, like doing well on her first test in Linear Algebra, and her long-term goal of graduating in May 2020 at Memorial Stadium.
This year select Renegades celebrated a monumental and historic day on Aug. 28. Seventeen inmate scholars graduated, including nine with honors, earning their associate's degree in communication at Kern Valley State Prison. Since its beginning in 2014-15, this program has experienced significant enrollment growth. Last year, Bakersfield College served 1,040 inmate scholars in 10 facilities and 16 prison yards. This year, the college is making course scheduling adjustment to implement a “6-Semester Predictive Loop” so that within any given six-semester cycle, ensuring that every course an inmate student needs to graduate will be offered. And by the end of the 2019-20 school year, BC will offer additional courses through the Inmate Scholars Program that will lead to Associate Degrees for Transfer in both psychology and sociology, giving these Renegades a unique opportunity to graduate as triple-majors.
Q: What are your goals for the school year?
A: We are active on many fronts. I’m proud of the faculty and staff at BC for their leadership, engagement and innovation that support students through to completion. All BC managers have their 2019-2020 work plan posted on the website.
We currently have 15 large construction projects underway, working to mitigate the impact of construction while maintaining high quality instruction and services ... In addition to Phase One renovations to Memorial Stadium, we are counting down the days to finishing construction of the brand new Vernon Valenzuela Veterans Resource Center. We are so grateful to our veterans for their service to our country, and are dedicated to providing the services they need. We know that with the right environment and services emphasizing academics, camaraderie, and wellness, all veterans can successfully complete their educational goals at BC.
Kern County rates of educational attainment are significantly lower than state averages, with only 9 percent of rural residents obtaining a college degree. Early College is more than just access to college — it is built on an equity equity model. Many students who graduate from high school don’t continue their education due to work obligations and providing for their families. And those who do begin college often quit before reaching their goal. Early College makes it possible for students to earn college credit and even earn a college certificate or degree while they are still in high school.
BC is launching several initiatives in entrepreneurial education to meet a growing need in our community. Enactus is BC’s official, and nationally affiliated student club in entrepreneurship.
This year, BC is also unveiling the BC Launch Pad, a location that provides entrepreneurial resources that empower residents to successfully launch and grow small businesses ... BC is also collaborating with Start It Up, a platform that helps innovators and entrepreneurs understand what it takes to have a sound business plan and navigate the legal issues related to starting a small business.
BC is partnering with Geekwise Academy, the educational arm of Bitwise Industries, to pilot a connected web development curriculum. This partnership with Geekwise will aggregate micro credentials for skills training and internships for students in specific courses of the web development certificate at Bakersfield College.
Q: BC SouthWest students will be starting in October. What are you looking forward to with this group?
A: BC SouthWest classes are currently being held in a facility at the corner of Buena Vista Road and Stockdale Highway. BC SouthWest serves nearly 2,000 students, the equivalent of having 360 full-time students at this location. And we’re watching those enrollments grow.
In October we will move into a new southwest facility on the perimeter of CSUB. This will increase our educational space to 60,000 square feet. We have plans to grow the course and program offerings so students can complete multiple Associate Degrees for Transfer on their way to CSUB. For example, we are working with CSUB President Lynette Zelezny and her team to strengthen the BC-CSUB partnership that will streamline access for BC students to CSUB. This community college-university partnership has the potential to become a statewide model demonstrating how students can complete their baccalaureate in four years.
Q: Gandhi is an important figure who will be discussed heavily this year. What is the significance of choosing him and how are his messages relevant to BC students?
A: We are celebrating his 150th year of birth anniversary and want to thank Ravi and Naina Patel, who are leading the events that constitute the year-long celebration here in Bakersfield.
We have committed to using this year’s activities and observances to share Gandhi’s message. Education opens us up to differing world views and provides the space needed for us to coexist and thrive. At BC we teach our students to see the other, to know the other, to love the other. At BC, we are bridge builders.
I describe BC faculty and staff as being fearless in doing what is right. In that regard, I see the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi’s message alive at BC each day. Our faculty and staff are unafraid of change; instead, they are catalysts for change. They are champions for student success. They are champions for integrity in education. They are champions for this community.