Gita Bangera, Michael Reese, and Dan Fey
Would you like to engage 1,214 students in community engagement or civic education? What if you could send your students to present their research to the US Congress or to a NASA internship? What does it mean to be an autism-supportive college? How about empowering faculty and staff to be change agents?
The RISE Learning Institute at Bellevue College has accomplished all these things and more by harnessing the synergy of combining disparate programs that on the surface do not belong together. Bellevue College took this unique approach to create the RISE Learning Institute – and over 7 years it has evolved into an engine that powers the growth of transformative learning college-wide.
RISE was developed to help Bellevue College become an equity-producing institution. RISE transforms student education through the provision of high-impact practices in the classroom and innovative student engagement experiences that reinforce learning and engagement.
There is a mountain of evidence that shows that transformative learning happens when students engage in High-Impact Practices (HIPs; see table). While these experiences benefit all students, they are especially impactful for student communities that have been historically underserved in higher education (Kuh, 2008; Finley and McNair, 2013).
HIPs are critical not just for success during college. Research by Gallup and Purdue University showed that undergraduates who engaged in these transformative experiences were markedly more likely than their peers to feel that they were engaged and thriving in life and work years after graduation (Ray & Marken, 2014).
At Bellevue College (as at many other institutions), these transformative learning experiences were available to students in certain courses and/or as extracurricular or co-curricular activities. This approach adds the burden of learning about these programs, knowing the value of these programs, and being able to afford the time and/or money to access these programs on students. This system also excludes students who are not confident or do not feel a sense of belonging in particular disciplines.
The RISE Learning Institute has focused on bringing HIPs into standard even core courses so that students no longer have to face the barriers mentioned above to benefit from these experiences.
RISE links several innovative student engagement strategies to enhance student learning in and outside of the classroom. The Neurodiversity Navigators program helps neurodiverse learners navigate their college going experience in a person-centered fashion that focuses on executive functioning, advocacy, and accommodations. The Stem-to-Stern program is a cohort-based student mentoring, support, and industry-engagement program for students taking STEM focused courses at the college. The Center for Career Connections provides students with job search and placement during and after college. (RISE staff also played key roles in supporting the launch of the college’s First-Year Seminar program.) These services reinforce and enhance student learning in the classroom and beyond at Bellevue College.
Faculty are innovators and change agents who want to integrate HIPs into their courses but need support and professional development to offset their lack of time. Faculty development is thus key to reducing “barriers to entry” in adopting high-impact practices. RISE has adopted a multi-pronged approach to faculty development by providing a wide range of offerings that range from yearlong faculty learning communities, to workshop series, to standalone “microworkshops.”
Our faculty learning communities (FLCs) have had the most enduring impact. These FLCs generally meet about once a month for six or nine months. FLCs generally include 8 to 12 faculty, and RISE pays a small stipend, generally $500 to $1,000, to faculty who complete the program; this model has helped ensure adjunct faculty engagement, which is especially important on a community college campus where well over half of faculty are adjuncts. FLCs offer faculty a way to investigate curricular models, work collaboratively with faculty across campus, and plan and implement changes in their courses in a reflective and iterative fashion. RISE’s Associate Director Sapan Parekh launched our first FLC, focused on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement, in 2018. The following year, RISE partnered with the college’s teaching and learning center, the Faculty Commons, to launch a Faculty Learning Community for Project-Based Learning. In 2019, RISE launched a Faculty Learning Community for Undergraduate Research. After winning an NSF grant, RISE and BC have placed FLCs similar to this at the center of a statewide effort to expand undergraduate research at community colleges in Washington.
The pandemic led RISE to change its approach to faculty development. Faculty bandwidth, always a scarce commodity, dwindled to nearly nothing. Most faculty simply did not have the time for a community of practice stretching across many months. RISE thus expanded its workshop series, some aimed at faculty new to high-impact practices and some designed for instructors who had already completed FLCs. In addition, all of our faculty development offerings increased the focus on culturally responsive approaches and methods. RISE’s multi-pronged approach to faculty development thus evolved over several years.
Our FLCs received high marks from faculty in the way that they spurred interdisciplinary conversations. However, each FLC usually had no more than 1 or 2 faculty members from a given discipline, so they did not generally facilitate collaborations within departments. RISE staff realized that if they were to reach truly large numbers of students, they needed structures that would allow larger teams of faculty to work together to reinvent curricula within the disciplines. They devised an internal grant to motivate and fund such work; this program is now called the President’s Award for Innovation and Equity. To win this award, faculty teams propose a clear plan to engage at least 300 students per year in a high-impact practice. Faculty must articulate how their approaches will close equity gaps, and t engagement of adjunct faculty is a strict requirement.
This approach has been extremely successful. One of our deans noted that approach was very popular with faculty because it wed faculty’s passion for their discipline with student success. Six faculty teams have won the award, and their efforts have begun to close equity gaps and significantly increased the number of BC students engaged in HIPs. For example, one group of English faculty reinvented our first-year composition course, English 101, to feature project-based learning as they had students work in teams to create zines, informal magazines, on subjects of their own choosing. Students in the zine-based sections passed at a rate 7% higher than other sections of English 101, with double digit gains for Hispanic/Latinx students.
As the table above illustrates, RISE succeeded in rapidly scaling multiple HIPs in the three years before the pandemic. Although several programs experienced declines during the first year of the pandemic, those programs have rebounded substantially in the 2021-22 academic year. For example, enrollments in academic internship program recovered to 117, approaching pre-pandemic levels.
Finally, HIPs fit extremely well with the Guided Pathways frameworks that are being developed across the landscape of US community collegesâand they are eminently fundable. The RISE mission, vision, and impact have also been compelling to outside funders supportive of the model. In 2020-2021, RISE raised nearly $260,000 from funders such as the NSF, NASA, local cities, employers, and private donors.
Many colleges and universities are seeking to scale HIPs, and RISE can serve as a useful model. Much of RISE’s success was due to its innovative approach that brought multiple HIPs together in a single unit to harness synergies. To learn more about the RISE Learning Institute, visit bellevuecollege.edu/rise.
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