by Anna Kubiak
February 26, 2021
With the hire of Miguel Baique as the Director of Student Engagement and Inclusion in December of 2019, GCC has taken a step towards further prioritizing student engagement within the GCC community. Mr. Baique took immediate steps to revise the office’s name from ‘Student Activities’ to ‘Student Engagement,’ in doing so changing not only the representation of the office, but also its goal. Mr. Baique has been advocating to promote equity among students since the beginning of his career and carries those values of fairness as he reaches out to GCC students to create a sense of community throughout the college.
Three months after Mr. Baique was appointed Director of Student Engagement and Inclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, bringing unprecedented changes to everyday life. Mr. Baique said “I had so many plans, it’s all changed,” when asked how his strategy to reach students had been impacted. As a college with a unique demographic of traditional and nontraditional aged students, GCC was already looking to engage their community of online only students, however, the pandemic created more than one obstacle for Mr. Baique’s vision to become reality. Due to financial constraints, most of Mr. Baique’s team was let go leaving only his assistant and himself to keep the office running. “I’ve never been able to fully propel my vision because I didn’t have the human resources,” Mr. Baique said, though he made clear that his expectations for student engagement have not at all dwindled.
While COVID-19 restrictions have hampered the office’s ability to meet in person, it has not stopped them from reaching out to students, often finding unique, creative, and virtual ways to engage people. A popular form of communication comes from the weekly G-DUB Chronicles, an online newsletter emailed directly to students, which outlines college information such as club details and provides a schedule of activities lined up for the week. The newsletter offers easy access to prominent information to encourage engagement among its readers. It informs students what activities are being held and how to take part in them, in some cases it even offers supplies for certain events such as painting, which can be picked up at the campus. The G-DUB Chronicles offer some friendly competition among students by awarding prizes to the winners of their challenges, ranging in topics from lip syncing, to a random acts of kindness challenge, to trivia nights. The office has also developed a presence on social media, including Instagram (@gcc_sei) and Facebook (@GCCActivities), in the hopes of reaching as many students as possible. These posts detail events that can be attended and opportunities that students can take part in, such as club information and guest speakers.
Other areas of the college are aiding in the quest for student engagement by hosting virtual events of their own. The Student Government Association (SGA) holds weekly meetings with students to engage and communicate about possible improvements that could be made collectively. In a conversation with Student Trustee, Me’ilani Nelson, she expressed her hope that students would “feel they can speak to us freely.” After acknowledging that Zoom challenges communication between the board and the students, Nelson explained that SGA feels successful when “we are doing as much as we can for the student body” including that the job of the student government is “people telling us what they want, and us being able to do that.”
The addition of COVID-19 to a declining student engagement platform prompted a reevaluation of how GCC encourages student engagement, one that Mr. Baique anticipates will continue to bring positive change to the office for years to come. While Mr. Baique stressed the point that “there is no easy solution to engage all students,” he is looking towards the future of the office instead of the situation they have been handed, saying that the experience has “allowed us to be more motivated to address and acknowledge areas of improvement.” As GCC continues to push forward in their quest for student engagement, Mr. Baique is passionate about “redefining what we think about when we think of traditional age students and nontraditional age students.” Given GCC’s diverse demographic of students he said, “we need to start understanding that our student engagement should not be geared only towards ‘traditional students’” adding that many students attending GCC have priorities other than school that should be taken into consideration when planning student engagement. Last semester the My GCC Committee focused their attention on utilizing the Online Blackboard platform to its fullest.
Their efforts resulted in the addition of a new tab in Blackboard called GCC Life, where students are able to access pertinent information referring to student engagement. This page offers students contacts to information on tutoring and placement tests, taking a step forward in giving all students easy access to college news that can benefit them. These efforts by the Office of Student Engagement and Inclusion as well as others in GCC are yielding modest numbers of student engagement. There could be many reasons for this, the most common being Zoom fatigue or simply not being aware of available programs. Me’ilani Nelson from SGA expressed her thoughts on the matter, saying that more students “would like to be engaged, if they only knew it was out there.” Regardless of the setbacks, Mr. Baique is optimistically looking forward to what the program can learn from this experience and how they can make improvements for all students, adding that “there is no way that I cannot take this past year into consideration going forward.” He also stressed the importance of student engagement in the college community and the idea that building support networks allows students to succeed, reiterating the point, “you don’t have to go through this process alone,” and encouraging students to reach out to their college through student engagement.
In a global pandemic that has halted normal life as we know it, the Office of Student Engagement and Inclusion has made their goal clear. They are persisting forward to provide students with a vibrant online community and the closest approximation to a college experience possible. Mr. Baique is hopeful that students will engage with the college and their community, saying that “just because this is happening doesn’t mean people stop learning and growing.” It is his goal that the office will offer that opportunity to all students, adding that his own personal motto “you get out of it what you put into it” is something that inspires the work he does for students, explaining “this is what I do, I serve students, I serve students wholeheartedly.” Mr. Baique hopes that student engagement will increase, expressing that “it’s your time, your money, your experience, make the most of it.” As we adjust to our new normal, the Office of Student Engagement and Inclusion hopes that students will believe in their administration and in their faculty and staff, because they care about you and are there to support you.