Clark College, a vibrant village square
The proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child” expresses many notions—one being that what we do sets the course for the whole community.
Clark College is the village square. It is here wherein people with decades of work experience are retrained for new industries. Clark is where teenagers come to get a running start on college. It’s the place for those over age 50 who are lifelong learners.
In order to have an educated and productive workforce, the region must have a modern and efficient educational infrastructure, as well as resourceful faculty and staff.
Clark College Foundation is the conduit for a vibrant village square and a thriving Southwest Washington. It is through financial support that we can build a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics facility that offer current technologies; assist residents in clearing the barriers to earning their GED; ensure that women see other women in leadership roles within the fields of engineering, physics and early learning; and provide a foundation in the arts that rounds out a comprehensive education.
In this issue of Partners, you’ll learn about students who have achievable ambitions if they have access to scholarships and up-to-date facilities. Meanwhile, alumni will reinforce the notion that community is the glue that bonds a village.
Clark College Foundation
Clark's Stem Programs Inspire Women
clubs and mentors draw women into high-demand fields
Coming soon! New STEM facility on Clark’s Vancouver campus
- 10 instructional classrooms
- 11 laboratories
- Study areas & offices for life and physical science divisions & engineering
- $38 million in state funding for design and construction
Think for a moment how many male engineers, chemists, mathematicians, computer engineers or network administrators you know or have crossed paths with in your life. Now picture the number of women you’ve known to hold those jobs.
Walk down the aisles of your local toy store marked with pink signage. What do you see? Dolls, fashion accessories and cooking. Next door in the blue- and orange-colored aisles are LEGOs, trucks and math games.
The discrepancy between male and female role models and toys that shape learning, speaks volumes to girls, say Clark College professors.
Reinforcing the social stereotypes are parents, teachers and other adults who dissuade—either subtlety or directly—girls from pursuing their interests in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).
“My parents believed that women should only be teachers or nurses,” said Debbie Peters, a Clark engineering student. “So I worked in elementary education for about six years, but I was not happy with my life.”
With degrees in sociology and biology already in hand, Peters, 36, has an educational foundation that is helping her dive deeper into her physics and calculus courses this quarter.
Peters is in a unique group. Look into a physics, engineering or other science classroom at any American college, and you’ll likely see far fewer women than men. In 2009, women received 18 percent of the bachelor's degrees in science and engineering and computer sciences, 42 percent in physical sciences, 43 percent in mathematics and 58 percent in biological/agricultural sciences, according to the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.
Clark College mirrors that trend. The seats in physics classes are 75 percent filled by men. The ratio in Clark’s engineering courses is 10 to 1, men to women, according to college data. However, there are more women than men taking courses in chemistry, geology and mathematics during the 2011-2012 academic year.
The college’s STEM unit contains programs in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, math, surveying, computer-aided design and drafting, engineering and computer science.
But what may set Clark apart is the balance of female STEM professors and those in leadership positions compared to their male counterparts, according to Tina Barsotti, Clark’s engineering division chair.
Students are keenly aware of this.
“Little girls don’t see women being chemists or engineers,” said Peters, adding that women tend to follow the biology field because they see women as doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.
A cultural thing
Students at Clark have role models in the STEM faculty. There are three STEM division chairs—all are women; Kristine Barker, mathematics; Rebecca Martin, biology; and Barsotti, engineering. Of the 11 STEM departments, five leadership roles are held by women, three by men. The dean of STEM is a man, Peter Williams. The full-time professor ratios are balanced with 23 women and 22 men.
Clark has made a concerted effort to hire female STEM faculty and put them in leadership positions. But finding those women in the marketplace can be difficult. Studies show that women have made significant advancements in law, medicine and business over the last half a century, but they continue to lag behind men in engineering, physics and computer science, according to a 2008 American Association of University Women (AAUW) report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”
Why are there so few women graduating from STEM programs? The reason is multi-faceted, but some of Clark’s STEM female faculty said there are drivers such as an American culture that promotes women and girls as consumers or caretakers, instead of problem solvers or inventors. Moreover, mainstream media and retailers perpetuate the myth by glamourizing and endorsing passive products for girls.
“Clark is currently assessing what is needed in a new STEM building to
meet the workforce needs of Southwest Washington. Once decided, we will
turn to the community for their support to augment state funding so that
we can train future engineers, network administrators and other
professionals for STEM jobs in the region.”
~ Ara Serjoie, senior vice president, Clark College Foundation
“The types of toys we make available to our children help shape the set of skills they’ll develop and their interests,” said Nicoleta Sharp, Clark’s only full-time, tenured female physics professor. Sharp is one of three women in an overall department of 12 professors and instructors.
Sharp, who studied in Romania and France, said the cultural forces that undermine women and girls’ aspirations in STEM are characteristic of the United States and not something she sees in Europe.
“The entire society looks surprised when a woman does science work here,” she said, adding, “From my experience, the percentage of female students in STEM disciplines in Europe is about 40 percent, versus 60 percent male. The STEM fields are perceived as being equally accessible to men and women, and women are expected to succeed in STEM professions at the same rate as their male counterparts.”
Clark College’s approach to bridging the gender divide and cultivating women and girls’ interest in and tenacity with STEM is by being role models, holding networking events and creating a buzz about groups and activities.
One such group is the Not Even Remotely Dorky (NERD) Girls club. Among its many roles, the group visits K-12 area schools offering hands-on challenges and demonstrating that science is fun.
“It is run by women, directed by women and focuses on what they want to do,” said Barsotti, adding, “It’s made a world of difference in the women’s sense of community.” And despite the name, NERD Girls is open to men at Clark too.
Audreyana Foster, 17, is a Running Start student at Clark and the president of NERD Girls. She loves teaming up with children at a local elementary school because “we break the stereotypes that STEM is not a place for girls.”
The club members say they have fun figuring out how stuff works or devising ways to construct a building out of uncooked spaghetti, tape and a marshmallow peak.
“NERD Girls makes school easier because we’re laughing and experiencing teamwork,” said Foster, referring to working with young children and collaborating with other Clark NERD Girls.
Studies show that women and girls become more engaged and are more likely to stay in the STEM fields when there is a supportive social environment, according to AAUW. Clark offers a tea social to connect students with female faculty and learn first-hand how faculty members balance their personal and professional lives.
The college also holds regional and statewide Science Olympiad events on campus that give students a chance to test their creative and problem-solving skills.
Furthermore, a Women in STEM Math Help Center is a drop-in resource that is staffed by female instructors or professors and open to women and men.
“Women learn best when they work together with other women,” said Kristine Barker, Clark’s mathematics department chair. She said older women tend to frequent the help center the most. “They find it a supportive environment. It’s very well attended.”
Keeping STEM fun and engaging, while limiting negative stereotypes—such as the misnomer that boys are better than girls in mathematics—is key to unlocking female curiosity and keeping them on the STEM track, according to AAUW.
“If we lose them at 8th grade, we’re never going to see them to tell them how cool science and math are,” said Carol Hsu, Clark engineering professor.
Build and they will come
Dean Williams said access to modern facilities is paramount to attracting and retaining students—women and men—to Clark’s STEM programs.
“We don’t have enough lab space to fulfill our students’ needs,” he said. It’s critical, he adds, that students have access to modern equipment and learning tools in order to prepare them for today’s competitive and highly skilled workforce.
Southwest Washington is expected to have 650 STEM-related job openings over the next decade, according to Scott Bailey, regional economist with the Washington Employment Security Department. Some of the occupations with the highest demand include computer software engineers and networking, as well as civil, electrical and mechanical engineers, and medical scientists.
Clark is poised to be a regional leader in educating STEM employees with the construction of a modern 70,000-square-foot facility that is slated to begin in 2014.
When completed, the center will serve in partnership with industry and other educational institutions to foster exploration, interactive learning and innovative teaching techniques for women and men, according to Clark officials.
Breaking through the Barriers
Every child deserves the best education, regardless of their background
By Edee Lemonier ’11
The majority of Early Childhood Education program professionals in Southwest Washington have either been educated or received continuing education through Clark’s program.
Lucy Estrada-Guzman ’90 was only an elementary school student when she started her first job. At an age when most kids are spending their summer days playing, she was busy working in fields alongside her migrant family in various parts of Washington.
Born in Los Angeles, Calif., to Latino parents, Estrada-Guzman and her family returned to California when she was a teenager, where they owned a small janitorial service. She attended the local high school, did homework in the afternoon, and then worked late into the night helping her parents clean office buildings.
By the time Estrada-Guzman was a senior her family had moved back to Washington and settled in Clark County. Although she knew she needed to continue her education, her plans took a slight detour after a discouraging meeting with a school counselor who told her she was better off working in a local restaurant. Instead of attending college, Estrada-Guzman waited tables until she could no longer ignore the nagging sense that much bigger things lay ahead for her. She decided to enroll at Clark College.
Though Estrada-Guzman, 42, initially attended Clark because the campus was close to where she lived, she immediately felt comfortable. “The atmosphere at Clark College is welcoming to everyone,” she explained. “I felt like I belonged and someone would help me.”
It was a work study program that got her in the door as a receptionist for Clark County’s Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, a program that helps low-income and at-risk children and families with school and life skills. While Estrada-Guzman was there, her supervisor suggested that she consider becoming a teacher. That comment piqued her interest. “I knew right then that’s what I would do.”
Estrada-Guzman strongly believes that education can change a child’s future.
“Regardless of where children come from or what’s happening in their home life, we have to instill resiliency in them,” she said.
At Clark College, she found engaging instructors who modeled how to teach in a way that made learning accessible for all students. She fondly recalls Paul Casillas, who teaches math for elementary teachers. “He made math something that I could partake in. If he can teach me math, then I could teach children math,” she said.
Estrada-Guzman graduated from Clark in 1990 and transferred to University of Portland where she completed her bachelor’s degree. A few years into her teaching career, she decided she wanted to make a difference in the lives of more than just her classroom students. So she went back to college, got her master’s degree and earned administrative credentials while holding down her teaching job.
In 2004, she got a job as the associate principal at Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School, where she was instrumental in piloting a dual-language program in kindergarten and first grade.
Two years later she achieved her goal of becoming principal. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work launching the program in a different grade level each year. Within five years students at all grades levels were spending half their day learning Spanish. Sarah J. Anderson became the first school to have a fully implemented two-way dual language program in Southwest Washington.
Estrada-Guzman’s education was made possible because of Clark’s Early Childhood Education program (ECE). More than 130 individuals are educated annually in ECE. The majority of ECE professionals in Southwest Washington have either been educated or received continuing education through Clark’s program.
The facilities, however, are outdated. A 1970s-era building that was designed to last for 25 years is still in use. The high cost of maintaining the buildings supersedes the dollars available for new equipment and space.
Clark College opened the Oliva Family Early Learning Center, a $2.5 million facility for toddlers and pre-K in 2011. The private/public partnership also resulted in a Little Penguins’ Gardens outdoor area, classrooms outfitted with age-appropriate learning tools and improved safety features.
The next phase of the project is essential in fulfilling Clark’s goals of improving safety, enhancing classrooms and expanding the resources required for the workforce needs of early learning professions in Southwest Washington. Clark is currently exploring the scope of phase II to determine the cost and dimensions of the facility.
Making science fun
Estrada-Guzman knows how important modern resources are. She partners with the college because she’s confident Clark is committed to offering students relevant and timely facts. As a result, the exploration of technology and science is available to children in the community who otherwise might not have access to it.
Rather than just playing computer games and learning to navigate the Internet, students learn how to write computer programs to create their own games. She has watched children’s motivation skyrocket when they realized they liked science, technology, engineering and math.
Estrada-Guzman reached out to Clark for more. When she instituted an English program, she called on Clark instructors to teach English as a Second Language classes for parents, while volunteers helped children with homework and readied pre-school children for kindergarten.
With the help of instructors and student volunteers from Clark College, 4th and 5th grade students participated in an after-school robotics program in which they learned about robot technology, as well as biology, chemistry and computer science. Even Clark’s mascot, Oswald the penguin, joined the students during the graduation ceremony, and students were excited to receive certificates in front of their proud parents.
In 2011, Estrada-Guzman took another step in her brilliant career to become the principal at Harney Elementary School. She brought with her many of the same programs and services she implemented at Sarah J. Anderson. She took over Harney Elementary School’s dual-language program, the first full-immersion program in Southwest Washington. This year 255 students are participating and Estrada-Guzman is once again working diligently to expand the program to all grade levels.
When she takes a moment out of her hectic day to reflect on why she has taken the road as an administrator, she says, “I decided to be a school principal because I wanted to impact an entire building’s philosophy toward teaching. My philosophy is that all children must have access to the high-quality education they deserve.”
It’s Estrada-Guzman’s work ethic that drives her. From the days of toiling in the fields to the demands of running an elementary school, Estrada-Guzman believes that anyone can reach their potential if they are given access to educational tools and are in a safe environment to explore their passions.
Thanks to her first-rate education at Clark, Estrada-Guzman is changing the lives within her school, as well as extending her reach beyond the building by teaching and empowering an entire community.
Edee Lemonier ’11 is a writer based in Vancouver and a former fourth grade teacher.