#IntheKNOW Live Chat: June 5

Opportunities and Challenges While Teaching and Learning Remotely

 

On June 5th, Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD), joined NCSE’s KNOW community on Slack for our first ever #IntheKNOW Live Chat. Check out the full transcript of our conversation below. 

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

Good morning everyone. My name is Jack Carew, and I am the NCSE Science Engagement Intern. Before I introduce our guest today, I want to give a brief explanation of the format for today’s live chat. We will begin with a brief interview; during that time, please feel free to leave questions in the #intheknow channel or directly on our posts. After the interview, we will open the floor for new questions, and return to the questions posted in the channel to answer. Please direct message me at any point if you have any questions.

 

Without further ado, I couldn’t be happier to be here today in conversation with Dr. Maria Boccalandro. Dr. Boccalandro is the Director of Sustainability and Programs of the Office of Advancement at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD); she is joining us today for an interview and open discussion reflecting on best practices during remote learning and how best to support students in need. Welcome Maria!

 

Dr. Maria Baccalandro

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

Hi everyone I am Maria Boccalandro, an identical twin, originally from Caracas, Venezuela and now a US citizen living in Dallas, Texas. I know you are wondering, where is the twin? She is a hardcore organic hemp farmer at a Co-op in Fort Collins, Co. Her name is Iginia, look her up!

I am the city girl; I work for a community college district where we serve over 80,000 students per semester. I am very fond of what the NCSE is doing to bridge science to decision and policy makers. I always go to their annual conference in January. Y’all should check it out!

 

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

Maria, thank you for your introduction! I’d now like to begin with a few questions to get to know you a little better and learn about your important work.

Could you give us an idea of your day-to-day responsibilities? What types of projects, programs, or courses do you work with?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)Sustainability logo

I am in charge of working with students and faculty to incorporate sustainability principles in the curricula. This is a fun job because depending on the course we plant organic vegetables, we cook with the sun, or mentor the student’s Green Club.

Right now I am working on a cool project that I think is very pertinent with all the violence that has been going on in our country. We want to create a LOVE Garden on each of our locations. This will be a place to exercise and experience social justice, where the community will work in the garden with law enforcement agents. This idea is based on A.J. Ali’s movie and book “LOVE is the answer".

LOVE stands for:

  • LEARN about the people in my community, to unconditionally
  • OPEN my heart to their needs as if they were all immediate family members, to
  • VOLUNTEER to be part of the solution in their life during both good and challenging times, and to
  • EMPOWER everyone I meet to do the same as if our lives depended on each other.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern  

Wow, Maria, that is so fascinating. I will certainly add A.J. Ali’s book to my list of books to read over this long socially-distant summer we are having!

Can you tell us a little about the students at Cedar Valley College? What challenges have they faced during the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

We serve predominantly African American and Hispanic students. We are located in southern Dallas County and many of our students have challenges with mobility, food security and affordable housing. As 100% of the classes went online because of COVID19, we had a lot of students that didn’t have the technology or Internet to study. Our district provided tablets with hotspots for those who needed them. With the shelter in place some students lost their jobs and then their homes. One of my students had to move to a shelter.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

Those sound like acute challenges that are being faced by many across the country, and world right now. It is all the more important that there be innovative solutions addressing these issues.

What have been some of your personal challenges during the pandemic? What innovations or successes have you experienced?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

Yes, my day–to-day has changed a lot because now I don’t commute 70 miles a day. This took up 10 hours of my time a week and now I invest this time in my health and family. I love that we have family lunches, as we used to have in Venezuela. 

I actually think I work harder and longer; some days I have online meetings all day. We have had to develop activities to do at home with our student’s Green Club. I also got to work with student interns at two of our sister colleges: North Lake and Brookhaven and they developed a sustainability newsletter that is great and reaches a lot of people that if we held an event on our campus many might not be able to come!

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

That’s so interesting! In spite of the geographical and movement restrictions wrought by the pandemic, you’ve been able to expand your reach through the sustainability newsletter.

What types of changes have instructors at Cedar Valley College had to make to ensure the success of their students?

 

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director  

Maria, I am curious about any surprise innovations/solutions that you’ve come up with during this period.

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

I am also a part time instructor and my course was an online class, but I had to be more flexible with the due dates. I had some extreme cases and, like a student who lost her home because she lost her job or another student whose mother had been hospitalized because of being sick with COVID-19 and he had been sent to a family member's house. Both had problems getting on a computer to do their assignments. I worked with them, giving them more time for the assignments and guiding them to other resources that could support them in this crisis.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern  

I can imagine that your students were very appreciative of your flexibility during such an uncertain time.

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

Here is a resource page we are providing- Dallas County Community College Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information for the DCCCD Community 

 

Katie Parrish, NCSE Communications Advisor

Your students are lucky to have you supporting them. You also mentioned that the district helped by providing Ipads to students, have they been able to support you and your students in other ways too?

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

Maria, if we return to Katie and Erica’s questions after, I’d love to hear what job skills are even more important now in a post-COVID-19 world?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

Yes, there is financial aid with a new emergency fund, counseling, online tutoring, mentoring, etc.

 

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director  

I am also curious, now that summer is here, how is DCCD planning for fall and beyond?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

I think we all get to put in our title the word “digital”. For example, I am now the Digital Director of Sustainability and Programs! It seems paradoxical but even though we are relying a lot on technology we also need better people skills. We need to be able to understand where others are coming from, what are they experiencing, how we can make a difference.

 

Michelle Wyman, NCSE Executive Director

Hi Maria, do you think that the students who have been most impacted by the pandemic and have utilized the increased access (hotspots, tablets, etc.) provided by DCCCD will be able to sustain engagement as students during this uncertain time, particularly if things continue to be uncertain this fall?  Is there any way that the NCSE community can help?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

Michelle a great question. Our average age of students is 27 years, these students are facing many challenges and keeping them engaged is very hard. Some have several children at home, etc. I think we need to provide wrap around services to help them focus on school.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

Maria, How will sustainability change/ how is it changing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

I want to emphasize that COVID-19 is a very critical and sad health problem, but we can’t deny that with less commuting we have less pollution. Also I have been asking our facilities personnel to track how much we are saving in utilities, while everyone is working and studying from home. This has a big impact on our carbon footprint. The question is as we all go back to our activities can we use less utilities and be more mindful of our carbon footprint?

 

Brian Matherne, NCSE Learning, Engagement, and Development (LEAD) Coordinator 

Maria, can you expand upon what you mean by wrap around services?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

Our students have many challenges, for example I had a student drop from class and not work as an intern because he car broke down and there is no efficient public transportation, this student needs an emergency fund to fix his car. It's meeting them where they are

 

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director  

Maria, It is great to hear that your campus is tracking carbon savings data and utility usage. I think there is an opportunity for transformation here, guided by science and data.

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

This is a topic where NCSE could help us, track our savings so we can spend on other student services

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern   

Wow, thank you all for those insightful questions!

 

Brian Matherne, NCSE Learning, Engagement, and Development (LEAD) Coordinator  

I face many of these same challenges with high school students that I work with. Lack of an efficient public transportation system and urban sprawl makes having reliable transportation a priority.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

Maria, How have sustainability initiatives you organize in Dallas changed during the pandemic?

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)Vegetables

This is a great question, because most of our sustainability awareness events were hands-on activities. We have been informed that our fall classes will be 100% online. I am working with my colleagues to design activities that can be done at home without overburdening the students. My colleague Brandon Morton organized a plant growing competition. My colleague Dr. Kara Casy developed and delivered an online webinar to grow your own food at home. For the celebration of Earth Day we hosted a movie using Team and then the students played Kahoot and the winner got an e-gift card sent to their email. I need more ideas, does anybody have any good ideas to improve student engagement?

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

That is such a great question! We would both welcome any ideas anyone has to improve student engagement.

 

Katie Parrish, NCSE Communications Advisor

Maybe students with gardens could try composting to reduce food waste and there could be an online webinar about how to compost. Maybe you could hold class discussions about how different issues are connected- ie the connections between racism, environmental issues, and the pandemic or the connection between climate change and water rights.

 

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director  

Maria, thanks for the question around student engagement. As one of the follow-ups to this live-chat, we can create a thread to aggregate ideas from the community.

 

Dr. Maria Boccalandro, Sustainability and Advancement Director at Cedar Valley College (DCCCD)

DCCCD Logo
DCCCD is welcoming new students in online classes.

Thanks these are great ideas! Maybe do a competition too

A higher education campus is a small city. We have to make our campus resilient. This means analyzing what strengths and weaknesses do we have? What threats and opportunities do we have? And how can we be prepared for disruptions. The students can be part of a living lab experience that enhances their learning outside the classroom. This COVID-19 crisis caught us all off guard. How can we be better prepared for the next disruption? The skills of critical thinking, communication, teamwork, social and personal responsibility are in our student learning outcomes, why don’t we put our students to work in being more resilient? In the case of community colleges our students belong to the community we serve. This means that as these students help our colleges to be more resilient they can also do it for their communities. Our mission at Cedar Valley College is: “To transform lives through teaching and learning for every student, every place and every time.” Now that we are 100% online, I invite you all to take one of our courses. We have high quality classes that are very inexpensive (79$ per credit for county residents and $135 for out of county residents)

 

Erica Goldman, NCSE Deputy Director 

College campuses and their role in resilience planning, both for the campus and the community, is something that NCSE has been thinking deeply about. The pandemic spotlights an untapped potential for higher education to become substantively involved in resilience planning and thinking.

 

Jack Carew, NCSE Science Engagement Intern 

Thank you all for a robust discussion during our first #Intheknow Live Chat! We hope that you were inspired by this conversation. Please reach out on this channel, or in our private messages, with any further questions! And finally, a huge thank you to Maria, without whom this conversation would not have been possible. Maria thank you for your willingness to share your experiences and innovations during the time of COVID-19. We appreciate it!