The Heavy Lifting in Higher Education

A great profile of community college instructor doing the hard work of making a difference in students’ lives.

From the New York Times 21 December 2014.

Raising Ambitions: The Challenge in Teaching at Community Colleges

Three years ago, Eduardo Vianna, a professor at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, had a student who passed an entire semester without speaking in class. Like many others, the student, Mike Rifino, had come to LaGuardia requiring remedial instruction.

But the following semester Mr. Rifino turned up in Dr. Vianna’s developmental psychology course. This time he took a seat closer to the front of the room. Taking that as a positive sign, Dr. Vianna asked him to join a weekly discussion group for students who might want to talk about big ideas in economics, education and politics, subjects that might cultivate a sense of intellectual curiosity and self-understanding among students whose backgrounds typically left them lacking in either.

“The group met on Friday afternoons,” Dr. Vianna said, “and Mike’s friends were asking him why he was wasting his time; the students who came weren’t getting any credit.”

Professors at elite four-year colleges can trust that students share a bank of references, that they will understand principles of critical inquiry, that they will appreciate conceptualization for its own sake. None of this can be assumed at a community college, where “the idea of academic discourse is completely foreign,” Melinda Karp, assistant director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, said.

Dr. Vianna and his wife, Dusana Podlucka, who has a doctorate in psychology and also teaches, part time, at LaGuardia, live in a 506-square-foot rent-stabilized apartment with their 8-year old daughter, Paula, on Lexington Avenue downtown. Paula, an avid cellist, occupies the bedroom and her parents sleep in the living room, on a foldout sofa.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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