Twenty-two years of experience prepared her for role as Vice President of Learning Services
Yuma, AZ (April 29, 2021) – When Dr. Diane Carrasco-Jaquez looked out at the sea of lost faces in the developmental math class she was teaching, she knew something needed to change.
It was at that moment, almost 12 years ago, that she decided to begin pursuing a different higher education pathway that would make an impact on a greater scale, ideally at the administrative level as a college vice president. She wanted to find techniques that would help instructors be more successful in the classroom and change the way students were experiencing learning.
“I was teaching that developmental math class and realizing that my students were really struggling; I had to figure out another way to teach. And I didn’t want to only help my class, but I wanted to help other classes too,” she said.
Carrasco-Jaquez first started noticing positive changes in the classroom when she began implementing Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) high engagement strategies. She also started working with other faculty members through various committees to help them utilize the techniques in their classrooms too.
“I wanted to see if I could help my fellow faculty members have the same kind of success I was having in the classroom, getting students excited about learning. It was during that process I realized I really loved the work I was doing, and it was fun.”
That experience led her to advance from a full-time faculty member at Odessa College to Department Chair of Computer Science and AVID faculty leader. She had worked as a faculty member on campus for 11 years before taking on the new roles.
“In the Department Chair position I was still teaching, but I was also learning about the daily, behind-the-scenes operations that you don’t see as a faculty member because you’re focused on doing your part to move instruction and help students,” said Carrasco-Jaquez.
The job also helped strengthen her leadership abilities as she was supervising a group of her colleagues.
She later shifted gears to become an Associate Dean. Her perspective of education changed yet again because she was not only working to balance day-to-day operations and helping general education faculty make changes in the classroom, but she was also working with the library and tutoring staff to see how those changes fit together with student services, advising, and beyond.
Moving forward from that position, she then became the Dean of Teaching and Learning. With that title, she worked with faculty to make instructional changes, but she was also responsible for looking at data to see how students were doing in their classes, how many students were dropping, figuring out why that might be happening, and finding ways to improve.
“I really got a whole other view of instruction there, because you’re talking about how to design a class,” she said. “I wasn’t supervising all of those faculty, I was supervising aspects of instruction. So I was working with other deans and associate deans to work with their teams, which made it an interesting dynamic because you’re not directly supervising those individual faculty, but you are still affecting change by working with them.”
Before moving to Yuma almost one year ago to become Arizona Western College’s Vice President of Learning Services, the final two positions she held at Odessa College were Dean of Career and Technical Education (CTE) followed by the Senior Dean for the School of STEM.
As the Dean of CTE, she had the opportunity to work with industry partners to develop curriculum for short-term certificate and associate degree programs. She also helped to redesign the Continuing Education program.
“I was helping marry, if you will, the credit side with the noncredit side, because if you’re taking Continuing Education courses, there are opportunities for you to then transition to the credit side and get into a degree program. So I was helping to establish those partnerships between those instructors as well.”
As the Senior Dean for the School of STEM, she moved into the role of overseeing specialty STEM areas while also balancing daily operations, strategic planning, program development, and grant management. She also co-led the campus committee that helped train faculty and prepare them for most classes at the college moving to short-term 8-week classes.
“My experiences through all of those positions and working with faculty in different departments across campus has really afforded me the opportunity to see how credit, noncredit, CTE, and general education academic transfer programs can all work together to help students,” she said.
When she began looking around for colleges with open Vice President positions, she said she wanted to be very selective about where she chose to apply, because she wanted to be at an institution that was serious about its mission statement and plan to help students. And that was what she saw, and continues to see, at AWC – even in the middle of a pandemic.
“When I started at AWC, things were so uncertain for everyone. No one had ever experienced a pandemic before. So I appreciate the hard work and dedication of faculty and staff. They jumped right into the unknown. It hasn’t been easy, but they’ve supported each other, and they’ve been willing to do things differently in their classrooms to see what works best for students,” said Carrasco-Jaquez.
Since she began at AWC, she’s been able to use the culmination of her almost 23 years of experience in education to help faculty and staff navigate through the difficulties of teaching during a pandemic. As the Chief Academic Officer, Carrasco-Jaquez is responsible for overseeing the scope, sequence, and integrity of academic programs at the college. She is also responsible for creating and sustaining excellence in all aspects of educational offerings districtwide.
During her time at the college, she has worked with staff on the continued implementation of Open Educational Resources (OER), which are free or low-cost (less than $40) course materials. The shift from traditional textbooks allows faculty to create their own assignments and content based on learning outcomes. This was an initiative she also had experience with during her time at Odessa College.
“The transition to OER helped us save millions of dollars for our students at Odessa College, because they could get an entire degree without any textbook costs. It was a big game changer for our students there, because usually when they come to class that first day, they don’t always have their book. They may have to wait until they get paid, so it’s two weeks into class and they still don’t have a book because of a financial barrier,” she said.
“I was so excited that our faculty at AWC are already engaged in OER and now we’re starting to expand the program. Currently, we’re focusing on classes with the highest enrollment in general education so we can have the most effect on students.”
The goal is for 50 percent of classes or more to be utilizing OER materials by July of 2022.
Carrasco-Jaquez has also worked to help implement a Success Course, which is part of the Guided Pathways initiative included in AWC’s Strategic Plan. The Success Course works to improve retention by aiding students in understanding their path to degree competition. It also teaches students about college terminology and how to manage their time, be organized, and take notes.
“Faculty had already worked on the Success Course for so long before I got here, and we were finally able to implement it this past fall. We found the course to have a positive impact on our students, as they remained engaged and completed the semester successfully.”
While the Success Course is currently being offered as an orientation class for new students, the hope is to also ensure our dual credit and concurrent students have the same type of support.
With 68 percent of AWC’s students being first-generation, Carrasco-Jaquez has been able to carry over her experience working with that same demographic at Odessa College, where many students were low-income, part-time, first-generation – or all three.
“If our students have all these high-risk factors that contribute to why they stop coming to class, getting faculty connected with high engagement strategies is key to helping these students succeed. And even if a freshman comes in and they know exactly what to do, and they’re completely prepared for college, it’s still going to help them too. I appreciate that our faculty and staff have that viewpoint of helping all students.”
On a personal note, although she hasn’t been able to meet many people in person due to the pandemic, from the meetings and events she’s been able to attend virtually she’s been impressed by how engaged community and industry leaders are in partnering together with the college to build up the community. Another thing she noticed right away is how much local parents emphasize the value and importance of their children receiving an education.
She added that the landscape in Yuma is great too.
“There’s a lot of beautiful scenery here, and even the campus itself is beautiful. I came from an area in Texas where it’s very flat, there’s literally a town near where I used to live called Notrees.”
During her job search, location wasn’t as important to her as making sure the school was the right fit. So, it’s an added bonus that her office has a great view.
“I’m just really excited to be here,” she said. “I know the pandemic put a huge bump in the road for us, but what I appreciate about our faculty and staff is that even though that bump was there, it’s not like we avoided it, we went right over it and dealt with it. And if we can do this, then you know what, for the next 20 years, the possibilities are endless, we can turn back and say we went through that, we can do anything.”
Administrative Assistant to the Vice President for Learning Services
Arizona Western College