Here in the Bay Area we are obsessed with the Prius, and even though none of us were really thinking about it, we all threw the auto mechanics into a frenzy a few years ago. For those of you who buy your cars new, you know they come with service contracts – you wouldn’t think to take the car anywhere but the dealership when you need maintenance. But a few years ago, after it had been a while since all those new hybrids appeared on the freeway, the first round of service contracts expired and Prius drivers started pulling their cars not into the dealership but into the neighborhood garage.

As it turns out, none of those neighborhood shops in the Bay Area were equipped to handle the strange new car. For starters, the power train was unlike anything they had ever seen. So when two community colleges, Skyline and Contra Costa, started turning out hybrid specialists from their newly minted automotive electronics workshops at the exact same time, the students got hired so quickly some of them didn’t even need to interview. This happened because these schools were carefully watching trends in their community and then put together programs that gave their students a competitive edge.

Three years ago, at Diablo Valley College, they found there was a local market for early childhood development; they then further discovered that most of the preschool/daycare employees were working entry level positions because they lacked the necessary certification for higher income. Why did they not have those certificates? They didn’t have enough language proficiency to take the certificate classes. So DVC created a cohort of linked courses, curriculum that added ESL classes alongside their Early Childhood Development certificate series. The students who completed the program went from making minimum wage to making $16 an hour.

As an adjunct, I taught English composition courses in a similar program designed for students interested in the trades. It was so successful that some of our students had to leave the graduation ceremony early to report to their first day of work.

You’ve probably noticed that these examples are related to workforce development, but what’s even more interesting to me is the ways that these kind of programs underscore the word “community” in our title as community colleges. These programs happen when colleges look into the neighborhoods just beyond their campus boundary and ask, ‘What do you need?”

Bill Ziegenhorn recently posted a very exciting blog about the connections between his history courses and various local history archives. It’s a brilliant idea, but I’m new here (I have only been here five months), so I don’t quite know about all of these stories and networks we have going on. Regardless, I find it all fascinating, so if you know what Foothill has been doing for community engagement, let me know, and if you would like to see more of it, we should talk.


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