Doris Gonzalez has approximately 25 years of experience working as a counselor with high school students and adult learners, including the last five years at Atlantic Technical College and Technical High School (ATC) in Broward County.
But it wasn’t until she watched an FCAN webinar last summer highlighting some of the most daunting non-academic barriers students face that she considered formally soliciting their feedback. The webinar featured guest presenter Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, president of Amarillo College, who described the process of surveying students at the college.
“I was really afraid of data because I’m not a numbers person at all. But he made it all seem so doable and not overwhelming in the least,” Gonzalez said. Within two months, Gonzalez had spearheaded the creation of a survey that allowed students to sound off on perceived barriers to postsecondary success at ATC. “We listen to students and we are around them every day, so we think we have an idea of what they are going through.
“The survey was great because it reminded us that we should not be making assumptions.”
According to Gonzalez, ATC students cited “transportation” as the biggest obstacle that might prevent them from completing their career & technical program. This once again quickly spurred Gonzalez into action.
“I contacted the (Florida) Department of Transportation, and I mentioned to them that, based on our survey, transportation was a big deal here,” said Gonzalez, who also enlisted help from colleagues in building a report that showed where ATC’s students came from. The report revealed some students commuted from as far as Delray Beach, which is a little more than 20 miles from ATC’s main campus in Coconut Creek. “It led to a lot of brainstorming.”
As a result, ATC has partnered with South Florida Commuter Services (SFCS) — a program of the Florida Department of Transportation — to assist students, faculty, and staff with getting to campus. The program was established at ATC after the Department of Transportation administered its own “transportation needs” survey.
SFCS offers priority parking spots for carpoolers, the opportunity for drivers to earn gas cards, and six guaranteed rides home via Lyft or taxi per year.
“We not only thought this was a good idea, but every time we talk to students about this they say it is very natural because a lot of them are used to apps like Lyft,” Gonzalez said. SFCS is also free for students to use and was extremely cost effective for ATC. “This is covered by our tax dollars, so we didn’t spend a penny.”
ATC students can currently register for the program at www.get2atc.com.
In addition to transportation supports, the survey also led to the creation of four life management workshops at ATC during the 2018-19 academic year.
“The survey told us that students were also running into life challenges outside of their classroom that impacted their possibility for success,” Gonzalez said. “These workshops were created to address the various obstacles presented by the students. “
Students are informed about financial, social, and emotional resources in the community and relevant life management topics. Last year’s life management workshops covered topics such as “starting your own business” and “buying your first home.” There are 13 workshops scheduled for the 2019-20 academic year, including sessions focused on mental health and maximizing study skills.
Like the transportation program, the life management workshops are open to both ATC students and staff.
A little more than a year after initially drawing inspiration from the webinar with Dr. Lowery-Hart, Gonzalez sees these changes at ATC as proof that staff and faculty are attuned to their students’ needs.
“I think it sends the message that, ‘We really listen to you when you tell us what you need,’” she said. “As part of our continuous process to address students’ needs, we put tools in place to continuously get student feedback.
“Surveying new and current students is a part of our everyday practice.”