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NMC Develops Plan to Create a “Learning Community” (September 15, 2010)

The Northern Marianas College has recently developed a plan to establish a “Learning Community,” which aims to create a supportive and inclusive learning environment that promotes the highest educational, intellectual and social development of students.

The College indicated that it is on track to fully implementing the Learning Communities Program by the Spring Semester, 2011.

Six faculty and staff members recently attended the annual National Summer Institute on Learning Communities (NSILC) at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. NMC was one of 23 colleges and universities selected to participate.

The NSILC assists staff and faculty members of various public and private post-secondary institutions with learning how to start or strengthen “learning community” programs on their campuses.

To learn how this new concept can benefit and be applied to the College, Geri Willis, Learning Communities Program, Student Engagement, First-Year Experiences Director, assembled a team of highly qualified NMC faculty and staff members with diverse educational and professional backgrounds, as well as a multitude of experiences, to attend the NSILC.

“The individuals were selected based on their commitment and willingness to undertake this difficult task,” said Willis. “This will be the first time for a core group of NMC educators to collaborate in the development of a unique program from inception to fruition.”

The team members include Willis; NMC Interim President, Lorraine Cabrera; Outreach Counselor, Liberal Arts degree program advisor, and Associated Students of NMC advisor, Zenaida Javier; Institutional Effectiveness Researcher, Lisa Hacskaylo; Business instructor and Faculty Senate President Larry Lee; and English instructor, and advisor Tom Colton.

Over thirty professionals from throughout the U.S. convened at Evergreen to work with teams to develop a Plan of Action. Workshops were designed around consulting with experienced learning community practitioners.

With the guidance of the resource faculty at the NSILC, the team created a comprehensive two-year campus action plan for the development and implementation of a learning community program at NMC.

“The foundation of a learning community is the social and intellectual relationships developed between students and their instructors, and students and other students,” said Willis. “This level of communication allows instructors to learn more about their students in order to better instruct and assist them. It also enhances a greater sense of community on campus.”

Willis goes on to say that, “A successful learning community leadership will focus on the following: Mission Statement, Goals and Outcomes; Academic Faculty; Faculty and Staff Development and Support; Learning Community Models and Offerings; Involvement of Academic Advisors/Mentors; Admission and Records; Information Technology; Student Services; Publicity and Marketing; Registrar/Registration; Program Delivery, Courses/Links; Assessment and Evaluation.”

A learning community is commonly defined as courses that are linked together and taken by the same group of students in order to provide these students opportunities for deeper understanding and integration of the material they are learning, and more interactions with one another and their instructors.

Willis adds, “A learning community helps students to improve critical thinking skills by sharing and connecting topics, ideas and assignments between courses, in addition to developing leadership, problem-solving and strong communication skills.“

“At the institute, we learned that students who participated in learning communities succeeded at higher rates than students who took stand-alone courses,” said NMC Interim President Lorraine Cabrera. “This is one of the reasons why we want to utilize this concept at NMC.”

Attending the NSILC provided us great insight, strategies and techniques on how to effectively integrate departments, programs, staff and faculty members into a cohesive, successful community,” said Cabrera.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program funded NMC’s participation in the NSILC.



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