Cultivating student success | August 17, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - August 17, 2012

Cultivating student success

Las Positas College offers education plus other ingredients for a complete student life

by Nicole Doi

Degi Haastrup knew for almost 10 years that he wanted to go to Las Positas College.

Haastrup is a student from Nigeria, and his older sister attended LPC in the early 2000s then went on to study at UC Davis.

"I watched my sister's success as she pursued her academic goals. She really set a good example for me and so I wanted to follow in her footsteps," Haastrup said.

He has one more year before, in the fall of 2013, he hopes to transfer to the University of San Francisco's school of business.

Although his experience at Las Positas hasn't been exactly what he imagined college to be, he explained that it's been better.

"I'm involved on campus and all of these activities. I really feel fulfilled at this point in my life," said Haastrup, who became a Student Senator after receiving 150 signatures from his peers.

"You come to college and go to class, but you have to take advantage of the other activities. Through my involvement with the student government, I've met so many open-minded people who have educated me on life. They've helped me to realize that my education is a lifelong process. They've taught me so many different things; they really push me to be a better person."

Whether it's been 10 years in the making or a matter of hours, many have made the decision to attend Las Positas College. Set in the rolling hills of Livermore, its state-of-the-art campus has proven that it has much more than picturesque views to offer.

Students First

This week Las Positas is welcoming 8,500 students to campus as fall semester courses begin. While some students are embarking on their final studies at Las Positas College, others are beginning their first year of college.

Foothill graduate Karoline van der Zee will be attending LPC for the first time this fall. Not thrilled about the colleges that had accepted her, she decided to begin her higher education at Las Positas.

"I hope to gain a nice relationship with my teachers and classmates, along with doing the best that I can in the classroom," shared van der Zee.

"I don't have an exact plan yet, but I'm looking forward to attending Las Positas. It's where I need to be in order to transfer to a school that I can't wait to attend."

With an extensive course catalog, Las Positas College offers a wide variety of classes and programs.

"We may not have as many sections as a UC or CSU, but the courses are there," said Las Positas College President Dr. Kevin Walthers.

"We're not trying to compete with the UCs or CSUs. Our goal here is to offer the students a quality education, so that they can be successful when they transfer. Our faculty is really dedicated to the idea of quality."

The faculty's commitment to quality is evident in the college's mission statement: "Students first." As state budget cuts force the college to cut sections, the faculty and staff at LPC have had to make adjustments.

"I try to add as many students as I can to my classes. If I have a chair, I'll add them. I do what I can to make sure that the students are getting the best possible experience that I can offer," said psychology professor and Director of Student Life Cynthia Ross.

The professors do not get paid for additional students, and with a 99% fill rate, Las Positas has almost reached its maximum capacity.

"We really have an outstanding faculty," Walthers said. "They don't get paid for their extra time, but they do it anyways because they see that it helps their students."

In order to ensure that the students are receiving the resources and education necessary to accomplish their academic goals, faculty members have spent countless hours organizing outside activities for their students.

Additional office hours, coordinated study sessions and monthly pizza lunches with President Walthers provide students with opportunities to become involved with their education.

Student Trustee Kris Adhikari of Tracy explained that as a student he has seen the affects of the budget cuts, but it has not taken away from his educational experience.

"We've felt the budget pinch at certain times, but the faculty does a really good job to set us up for success," Adhikari said. "LPC offers so much academic support. For me, the math center made all the difference."

In order to maintain a level of academic excellence and to provide the students with the resources they need to be successful, the Las Positas College Foundation, the college's fundraising branch, will begin to support additional sections of courses.

"I want to be able to remove roadblocks for the students so that they can reach their goals, whether that's going to a UC or a CSU or pursuing a career. I want to clear the way so that they can go on to be successful wherever they choose to go," Walthers said.

And successful they have been. In the 2011-12 academic year, LPC reported a 50.56% transfer rate, compared to the 40.7% statewide rate. The rates reflect the percentage of students who are successfully transferring to baccalaureate colleges or universities within six years. This past year, more than 500 students transferred to UCs and CSUs from LPC.

Tradition of Academic Excellence

Despite budget cuts, Las Positas College has maintained a level of academic excellence. Last year, more than 1,000 transfer students from across the country applied for UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, and four of the 100 students accepted into the highly competitive undergraduate program were from LPC.

"At Las Positas, I have gained the ability to focus. Being a student that did not do as well as they would have liked in high school, Las Positas has been more or less a second chance at getting into a good university," said Kyle Suchland, a Foothill alum and current student at LPC. "Las Positas gives students an opportunity to prove themselves as college students."

Suchland chose to attend LPC because of its strong Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician program.

"There are several programs in the state for EMT training, however, semester after semester LPC continues to prove themselves as one of the better ones," he said.

Suchland explained that a third party exam is taken upon the completion of the EMT courses. The national average for passing the test on the first attempt is 70%, while LPC nears 93%.

"Taking a look at just this one program at Las Positas, it is evident that the college is ahead of the curveball when it comes to its educational standards," Suchland said.

In order to ensure a quality education, the faculty undergoes yearly evaluations. In addition, each course's syllabus goes through a reviewing process.

Walthers said courses at a four-year college may be more rigorous but students may also be receiving instruction from a graduate student. At Las Positas, they are receiving an education from highly qualified professors who do their best to provide the students with a unique "hands on experience."

Student Life

With more than 30 active clubs, a student government, eight intercollegiate athletic teams, and a music and theater department, Las Positas offers a student life unique to the community college experience, faculty members say.

Half of LPC's student body is 21 or younger, while two-thirds is 26 or younger. A younger student population, which resembles that of a traditional four-year college, allows students the opportunity to experience what Walthers calls the "added-stuffs."

He explained that the "added-stuffs" are the clubs, activities and programs available to enhance a student's experience. While those attending four-year colleges compete with upperclassmen for spots on the stage, in the pool and on the field, LPC students find themselves a part of the starting lineup their freshman year.

"The students get into leadership roles more quickly. I think that's the biggest advantage. They have the chance to really develop some leadership skills," said Walthers.

Director of Events Teshayna Mitchell, who is in her last year as a student, describes her experience with student government as life changing.

"I just thought I would be a part of the student body and that was it. I never really imagined that I could be the person I am today," she said. "Being a part of student government has given me confidence in life."

Mitchell hopes to change the lives of others as the Director of Events.

"I want the students to get more of an experience," she said. "When you host events, it shows them that they don't have to be at a four-year to get the 'real' college experience. Hopefully it encourages the students to become involved and maybe even join student government."

Sydney Wagner, a member of the Women's Swim Team, values the friendships that she has gained.

"Being on the team has definitely enhanced my experience at school," she said. "It can be hard to make connections with other students on campus because we don't live on campus. But by spending so much time working out and traveling together, the team has provided this opportunity."

"Being a part of the team is also an excellent opportunity for students who have not competed competitively on a team before to have this experience," she added. "The ability levels of the athletes range so that anyone can feel comfortable being a part of the team."

As competition between transfer students continues to rise, Director of Student Life Ross expressed other benefits of becoming involved.

"It's often a challenge to get students involved on campus at community colleges because they aren't residence campuses. But I think that it is a good idea to get involved because transferring to four-years is so competitive," Ross said.

With religious, special interest, cultural, honor society and sports clubs, students say it is easy to find something of interest. Las Positas College also offers intercollegiate men and women's basketball, soccer, cross country, swimming and diving teams.

Whether it's playing basketball, acting or cheering on the sidelines, Las Positas students are finding that they aren't missing out on the "college experience."

"If I want to stay on campus for 10-12 hours, I can. There's always something going on," said Adhikari.

Each year, students from near and far come to pursue a higher education at Las Positas College. Whether they are from Nigeria or the Tri-Valley, planning to transfer or get their two-year Associate in Arts degree, LPC is committed to providing a quality education where its students come first.

Las Positas College at a glance

* 8,500 students

* 93 full-time faculty

* 220 adjunct faculty

* 147-acre campus

* 24 occupational associate degrees

* 17 transfer associate degrees

* 44 certificate programs

* 50.56% transfer rate

* Tuition for each credit hour: $46


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