Maggie May ‘23EDD, an adjunct faculty member in the North Carolina Community College System and a doctoral student in the NC State College of Education’s Community College Leadership program, had never applied for a fellowship opportunity before, so she was “awestruck” when she was selected to be one of 20 Belk Center Fellows.
As a fellow, May will represent the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research at the League for Innovation in the Community College’s virtual 2021 Innovations Conference from March 1-4, 2021.
“The individuals who are going to be presenting at this conference are leaders and movers and shakers in the field and I hope to be able to have a pulse on innovation with the community college system and just be part of the conversation,” May said. “I’m thrilled to be a part of an institution like NC State that stretches even beyond North Carolina with it’s connections and mentorship opportunities.”
The Belk Center’s Fellows Program began in the 2017-18 academic year through a partnership with Achieving the Dream — a non-government reform movement focused on helping community college students have better economic opportunities — and the creation of a cohort of DREAM Fellows. It has since expanded to include a partnership with the League for Innovation in Community College.
The goal of the Fellows program is to bring together a select group of doctoral students to listen and engage in national conversations surrounding community college and student success, explained Laura Maldonado ‘20PHD, a senior research associate at the Belk Center.
“DREAM Fellows provide a perspective on our annual DREAM convening in a way that only a doctoral student in educational leadership can – simultaneously making connections as both a practitioner and as a student who is constantly asked to reflect on theories in the field,” said Elayne Reiss, director of research at Achieving the Dream. “As Achieving the Dream strives to deliver evidence-rich content to community college professionals in an effort to improve levels of success for all students, the organization values the contributions of the DREAM Fellows, who help to weigh in on the ability of our DREAM content to make those links between evolving theory and current, relevant practice.”
“We are pleased to partner with the Belk Center to bring these higher education leaders and scholars to our Innovations Conference, where they explore key issues facing community colleges and promising, innovative practices these institutions are using to address current challenges,” said Cynthia Wilson, Ed.D., vice president for learning and chief impact officer at the League for Innovation.
Fellows who attend the Innovations Conference prepare an executive summary on the major themes, issues and questions presented at the conference to assist the League with event evaluation, and some will make presentations of their own during the event.
Sonia Chandarana Tandon ‘23EDD, a faculty member and chair for the Humanities Enrichment Series at Forsyth Technical Community College, will be sharing a proposal entitled “My Perfectly Imperfect Online Class that Thrives Beyond the Pandemic.” The presentation is intended for educators who envision themselves engaging in online instruction after it is no longer required by the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on ideas that include humanizing online classes, creating relevance in instruction, applying inclusive pedagogy and how to build a supportive community in online classrooms.
“I chose this topic for two reasons. Historically speaking, a good 50% of the classes I teach have been online, and now with the pandemic, I have transitioned 100% to online synchronous and asynchronous teaching,” Tandon said. “Creating positive student experiences in online courses is my driving mantra. Additionally, if I can in some measure contribute to the pedagogy around that, it would be hugely rewarding.”
Belk Center Fellows who will attend the Innovations Conference and those who had the opportunity to attend Achieving the Dream’s 2021 virtual DREAM conference from Feb. 16-19 also expressed an interest in learning more about topics related to equity in the community college system.
May said she is excited to hear how community college leaders from across the nation approach student success with the ideas of equity and access in mind in order to make real change.
That sentiment was echoed by Fellow Stephanie Lackey ‘23EDD, program coordinator for early childhood education at Forsyth Technical Community College.
“Exposure to nationally acclaimed leaders and practitioners and their approaches to relevant national issues and strategies on student-focused culture will provide me with practical insight into future community college leadership,” she said. “I am excited to hear community college leaders’ voices in how they are supporting courageous conversations and authentic programs that support the success and belonging of all students, faculty and staff.”