In this episode, Dr. Pam Cox-Otto of Interact Communications hosts a conversation with Dr. Angel Reyna, president of Madera Community College, which recently won the Lumina Foundation’s Million Dollar Community College Challenge. They are joined by Lumina Foundation’s Shauna Davis, Mary Laphen Pope, and Tracy Chen. Dr. Reyna shares Madera’s vision of the impact they aim to have on their community and students through delivering a message that elevates Madera’s students’ incredible resiliance and how the college can help them reach the next level of their potential.
Episode Transcript for Supporting Madera Community College’s Million Dollar Vision:
Introduction: Welcome to the Community College Marketing Master Class, where we explore the latest conversations happening in higher ed, including the trials and triumphs and recruitment, equity, Guided Pathways, retention, and beyond. With more than 25 years of experience working with nearly 1,000 community colleges nationwide, Interact is proud to share best practices and insights from experts around the country. Tune in now for another great discussion with your host.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Hi, everyone. This is Dr. Pam Cox-Otto of Interact Communications, and I hope you’ll join me this week on our Interact podcast as we talk to the winner of the Lumina Foundation’s Million Dollar Community College Challenge. Joining me this week are representatives of the Lumina Foundation and the president of Madera Community College. Yes, I’ve let the cat out of the bag. You now know who won. We’re going to talk about Lumina’s decision-making process and what drove Madera’s decision to apply for the challenge, what set them apart, and their plans for making a transformational change in their college and their community. Join me. Welcome, everyone. I’m excited to be having a conversation today with folks from the Lumina Foundation and the college that won the Million Dollar Community College Challenge. If you applied for it and didn’t get it, I’m sorry, but you should still listen because you could learn some things from Madera Community College. That said, would it be okay if we went around the room and introduced ourselves? Shauna, why don’t we start with you?
Shauna Davis: Sure. Shauna Davis, I’m the strategy director for community college participation here at Lumina Foundation.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: And Mary.
Mary Laphen Pope: Hi, I am Mary Laphen Pope. I am strategy officer for participation, also at Lumina Foundation.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: And I should note that Tracy is in the background looking at us, and I think she’s judging. She’s actually here for moral support for all of us. Tracy, tell us about yourself.
Tracy Chen: Thanks, Pam. I’m Tracy Chen. I’m director of media strategy at Lumina Foundation. It’s a fancy title for public relations.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: I’m big into titles. I agree. [inaudible 00:02:11] president has given me a wonderful title and no money, totally get it. It’s great. And also, I’m honored to have with us the president of Madera College. Dr. Reyna, introduce yourself.
Angel Reyna: Yeah. Thank you, Pam. My name is Angel Reyna. I’m the proud president of Madera Community College. Thank you for having me.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Glad to have you here. I’ve got a few questions about how this all came together. In getting ready for this, I was looking at the video when they announced that Madera had gotten the award. I got to say it, I teared up. It’s wonderful to see everybody so excited about this. And Lumina, you clearly did a good job of pulling people in and getting them excited about the possibilities. So talk to me, and whoever wants to answer can, talk to me about your process in selecting Madera from among your 10 finalists, because you had it down to 10 very well-known and very strong schools.
Shauna Davis: Right. So we had, of course, hundreds of colleges applied. We narrowed that down to 10 based on the initial application. So all of the colleges went through and completed an application. And one of the core things that we asked was our last question in the application, which was, and it’s not worded exactly like this, but it’s something to the effect of how would a million dollars transform your college’s brand building and marketing efforts? We asked really comprehensively and we asked all colleges, lay it out there, what would you do? And so I would say all of the 10 finalists did a great job, and Madera did as well in really helping us understand how a million dollars would be transformative to their efforts.
Shauna Davis: And then from there, we did another round, which was that wonderful video you were referencing, in which all of the colleges were asked, with their own resources … I will say this. We did not give any colleges money to produce their videos. And to keep that fair, one of the things that we instituted in the judging criteria is that we were judging on message and we were not judging necessarily on production value because we did not provide colleges with money to do that and everyone is resourced differently. And so all of the colleges produced videos two minutes or less that really outlined their promise to adult students. They were targeted and charged with speak to students, don’t speak to Lumina Foundation. That’s how we got to Madera, but that’s how we got to our top 10, and that’s one of the things that really stood out about what Madeira produced.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Talk to me about, in looking at the message and the whole thing, not just the final video, but also their application, what spoke to you most? What fired your soul?
Shauna Davis: Yeah. Mary, you want to jump in there? I’ll maybe say this one thing that really stood out to me. There’s a line in … Throughout their application, it was very clear to us how well Madera understands their student population and how much they really wanted to focus on, and this is their words, they wanted to create a visceral sense of belonging within their college community. And then they also talked about the community being proud of their college. And so those were two things. It’s generational transformation, this visceral sense of belonging and this community pride that really jumped out. Mary, what was it for you?
Mary Laphen Pope: Yeah. I think I would echo what you just said, but also add on that there was also, the video was done by a student and about a student. And having that student voice coming through so strongly, I think, was really powerful and something that when you watch the video, it just sticks with you. So that’s something that really came through. And to Shauna’s point, I think it was really interesting how the video highlighted what we saw in the application as to how well Madera knows their students and that sense of belonging that she mentioned. And we saw that threaded all the way through. Yeah. I think that for me, that’s really what it was, really understanding… I felt like viewing the video, I really had an understanding of the student experience and it was powerful.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Well, so you got to that moment, 10 colleges who shall remain nameless. You’re now the winner. But let’s talk first about what drove you and your college, Dr. Reyna, to go for this. You knew you were in competition with literally everyone in the country to get attention, to get recognition. So what was the need, the fire in your belly that was driving the application?
Angel Reyna: For us, it was the clear need for resources. And I know we shared this with Lumina, previous to the Lumina and some of the stimulus dollars, as an institution, our overall marketing budget was 2,000. And shifting from a center to a college was a really big deal in trying to get a sense of our community, which was, as mentioned, very proud of the fact that we were the institution within the community and transitioned from a center to a college. And we saw the opportunity as a brand new college to also build our brand, and not necessarily just the brand of we’re going to put billboards up, but to say, “We’re in your backyard. We value you. We want to create a space that values you in terms of the students, and more importantly, the community that we serve.”
Angel Reyna: And so I think everything that Lumina was providing in terms of resources and the whole application was in alignment to the work we wanted to do. Those were some of the things when we discussed with Mary and Shauna, when we were selected as a top 10 finalist, that I shared, this is who we are. This is the work that we’re doing and we’re going to do. The resources are going to help accelerate that. And so for us, it was alignment with our mission and vision and values of what we wanted for the institution, but more importantly for our students and the students that we serve, and that sense of belonging has always been there for us as something we wanted to create for our students.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Were you surprised when you made the final 10?
Angel Reyna: I would say yes, because it’s a national competition. It’s going to be competitive. It wasn’t like it was just the Central Valley out there competing. I would say we were surprised. But I wasn’t surprised in the sense that, wow, we don’t belong in this group, because I know we did. We put in a lot of work. We know what we’re doing for our institution. And one of the things that I shared with our group that was there during the launch party was if we continue to center our students in the work that we do in the community that we serve, more of these recognitions are going to come our way, because that’s the work that we should be doing and are doing, but we can’t lose sight of that, and it’s critically important we don’t.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Well, what really impressed me in looking at some of the things you were putting forward was you’re very centered around your community. Yeah, community college is the name of everybody, except those who’ve taken it out, but that doesn’t mean we’re as closely tied with our communities as I think many colleges wish they were or think they are. You’re clearly in touch with and centered around your community.
Angel Reyna: And I’ll add to this point. Having a shared, lived experience with the students that you serve goes a long way. That was one of the reasons why I selected to apply at Madera Community College, because I wanted to be able to represent and reflect the students that I serve so that the decisions that I make, the work that we do centers the students and understands their backgrounds so then we can create that sense of belonging. And I think that has helped in the individuals we’ve hired and brought in as well to have that perspective as well that the students come first.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Well, tell me then what led to the approach that you took in the final video? You know, student focused, student speaking. And for those of you who haven’t seen it, all in Spanish, with subtitles. So for those of us who are Spanish-impaired, we could understand what you were trying to say to us. Those are some pretty dynamic choices. Talk to me about those decisions.
Angel Reyna: Yeah. And it goes back to what I shared previously, is we wanted the student in the video to represent and reflect the students that we serve, number one. We didn’t want to just bring in someone, they’re like, “Who’s this person? And they don’t even look like the students we serve.” And we’re predominantly female. We’re about 68% or so female. And we’re also about 68 to 70% Hispanic, Latinx-identified. So we wanted to put somebody out there that represented and reflected the students that we serve. And then in addition to that, we know that our students are resilient and that’s the message that I’ve shared with our campus.
Angel Reyna: Some students, and I mentioned this and I’ve heard faculty sometimes, some of our students succeed in spite of us and I’ve shared that. They’re here with so many obstacles they’ve overcome and they’re still at our door. So it’s not that they’re not resilient. They are the moment they arrive to our campus. As far as they’ve gotten is because they’ve been resilient and they have that skill set. Now it’s incumbent upon us to take them to the next level or quite frankly get out of their way because they know what they’re doing as well. So we wanted someone that hit on those two things that could illustrate that they are resilient. And I think that came through in the message. And with Marisela starting off, I’m going to tell you something you already know. And then just unfolding her story and everything, it was beautiful.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: It was beautiful. And it goes to the heart of when we talk about our students, we shouldn’t be bragging what we’ve done for them. We should be talking about how honored we are they’ve chosen us, because they have choices and it’s our duty to be part of supporting them in this. And you’re right, get out of their way.
Angel Reyna: Yeah.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Were there lots of choices about what story you were going to tell? Because knowing you serve a really diverse community, there have to be a million stories.
Angel Reyna: The director of marketing and communications, Michelle Corbet, who played a very integral role in this application and process, we sat down and chatted this philosophical approach, someone that represented and reflected the students that we served, and not just for this video. I think in general, on how we do outreach, we want to make sure that students see themselves at our institution, and we’ve taken that approach and so it aligned perfectly. It wasn’t once we were named a finalist, we were like, “Okay, what are we going to do?” We had a general idea. We’re always going to center the students that we represent.
Angel Reyna: And then Michelle already had a relationship with Marisela, and being a student worker and being with us, that there was already that connection and understanding of her story that came to the front. And then we’re thankful that Marisela agreed to do it because we also want to make sure … There’s a thin line between giving students voice and exploiting them. I tell people, “Make sure we don’t exploit our students and there’s a fine line there.” And I think Marisela was more than willing and more than comfortable, as you could see in the video, of sharing her story, and we’re very thankful that she was.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: No. She represented you very, very well in terms of what’s possible with … You take the grit and resilience of a person with a dream and you add in education and some magical alchemy stuff happens, and clearly that was part of the picture. So back to you, Lumina. I’ve seen the list of schools. You had some very heavy hitters who also have great stories to tell. What really allowed you to make the decision on Madera?
Mary Laphen Pope: So I’ll start. And then Shauna if you want to jump in. And I will say Madera stood out in so many ways, but it was not an easy decision. So I know we both have our things that were like, “This is why it should be Madera.” And I think for me, it was that the whole institution owned this whole process and that was very clear. When we read through the application, when we got to speak with Dr. Reyna and we saw the video, it wasn’t just one person at the institution that was just carrying that brand or carrying that sense of belonging, that responsibility for their students. It was something that it was very clear that that was seen from the students, to the faculty, to the staff, and really seen as a place where students belong, and to Dr. Reyna’s point, are so welcomed on their campus. And that was something that stood out to me from beginning to end of the application process.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: It wasn’t a grant writer locked in some basement trying to come up with what to put forward. It was a college trying to tell its story. So I hear you.
Mary Laphen Pope: Absolutely.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Talk to me, Shauna.
Shauna Davis: Yeah. The only thing I would add to that is, so remember there were multiple parts. Because what I don’t want to give the impression on is that it was only Madera produced a powerful video, but when we really had to make the decision based on the totality of what we would call round one and round two. And I think one of the things that Madera did exceptionally well was, again, you could see there was this carry-through of this sense of belonging. There was this carry-through, there was this authenticity and this real conveying of their commitment to transforming their brand. And remember, that’s what this was all about. It was never our intention to give someone a million dollars to, as Dr. Reyna mentioned, to put up billboards or to run commercials one time.
Shauna Davis: It was really this idea of understanding what a college’s vision is. And could it be transformational to provide an institution with the resources that really has an idea as to what they would do? You think about in education, so many times there’s a lot of creative people who work in education. There’s not a lot of resources that are flexible resources that necessarily allow you to do these kinds of things that are so important in this day and age especially, where it’s not enough to say we do good work. We do good work, and then people have to see it. They have to know about it. They have to be a part of it. And so we wanted to be able to do that. And they were very clear about what they wanted to do, how they would do it. They were very clear about, that you have to be able to experience it.
Shauna Davis: So again, remember when we talked about brand building, we were not simply talking about coming in and things being pretty. We wanted things to be pretty. Things appeal to our visual senses, of course. But this idea of it, we talked about in the application, carrying it from the website to the parking lot, to the classroom, to the experience. And so I think that they did that very well. And it was so powerful that it came through not only in the application, but then you were able to visually see it and hear it and experience it when you watch their video. So that’s what it was for me.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: I can tell you that I’m really impressed with the approach you took, the approach of your entire college. I used to be a grant writer. Frequently, people would say, “Let’s go for this.” “Well, what do you want to do with it?” And they go, “I don’t know. We’ll think of something.” But the idea that you already have a plan, you’re heading a direction, this is part of the marrow of who you are. The money is simply to help you speed that up. It’s not, what will we do with this money? It’s we’re going this way whether we get the money or not. And that’s a powerful thing because it means you’ve got vision, it means you’ve got buy-in, and you’re not simply looking for money to boost something for a year or so. You’re looking at the transformation that both Mary and Shauna are talking about. That’s a big deal. So let’s talk about, what are you focusing on with your million-dollar prize?
Angel Reyna: Yeah. So we’re looking at several different things, but focusing on having murals on campus that represent the culture of our students. And this conversation I started, as you were mentioning, with our faculty, our art faculty, probably about eight or nine months ago. So they’re in process and I told them, “Hey, there’s this thing we applied for, Lumina, that could help accelerate this. No guarantees.” But they’ve been very excited and proactive. And I think it’ll change significantly the feel of the campus, being able to be at an institution that has that visual piece where students are like, “I can connect to this institution even when I’m outside, even when I’m inside.” And I think that is something that I’ve been wanting to do when I’ve been at institutions as a student of color, first-generation, I was like, “Those things resonate with me, connect with me.” To be able to connect with the institution that you attend is a very powerful thing.
Angel Reyna: We’re also, within our educational master plan, we put in a multicultural center and that’s something that this, in terms of the funding from Lumina, will help us to be able to work on. We have a new facility that’s coming on board in November that’s going to create secondary effects. So we’re already looking at spaces to create that multicultural center to have that space and sense of belonging for our students. And it goes beyond just students of color, but also veterans and other populations that are marginalized and need that extra support. We want to make sure that we’re inclusive in our supports. And then also our website, it’s been a challenge moving from a center to a college, to get our website up to speed, because we were under the mother institution, which is now a sister college. It’s not like we magically got all the positions we needed to do this work.
Angel Reyna: So our website needs some work to redesign, to be more student-friendly, to help students with that student experience that would help them navigate our website. We’re also looking at having events on campus that are geared towards adult students so that they know that they belong at our institution, that are family-friendly, that work around their work schedules as well. Those are some of the things that we’re looking at and also hiring consultants to help us out to map that student experience. What does it look like? What are we doing well? What should we improve on? What are we not even thinking about? And then being holistic and looking our curriculum. Is our curriculum culturally responsive and relevant to the students that we serve? Because we want them to feel welcomed in and outside of the classroom, and so we’re looking at that holistically.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Makes sense. I’m working with a couple of colleges in the Midwest, and right now they have new colleges going up across town that are focused on teaching skills to the Latinx community in Spanish. And part of the reason that’s happened is because they’re not being taken care of by the existing institutions who don’t … It’s like, “Learn English and then we’ll give you something to follow, to study.” So their content, their courses, they don’t match the shifting demographics of their region. You rightfully identified that there has to be that connection point. That just makes sense. One of the things we were talking about was the concept of pertenencia. And I probably ruined that, but it’s close enough. Explain to me what that means and what you’re trying to do with that in your response to the money.
Angel Reyna: Yeah. The sentido de pertenencia, and you did say it right, Pam, is the sense of belonging. And so we threaded that out throughout the application and the work that we’re doing and who we are as an institution. I always liken this to saying, well, if you have someone over that’s a stranger at your house, how comfortable are they? How will they access your home versus someone that is your close friend or a best friend or a trusted friend? How are they going to access your home? They’re more than likely to get up, go into the fridge, grab something, give you recommendations, tell you, “Hey, you’re not doing this right. You should probably put the fridge over here if you want people coming in.” And that’s what we want to create. We want to create that trusted relationship with our students and our community to give us that feedback, but more importantly, for them to be welcome to be able to do that and empowered to do that.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: The biggest gift anyone can give you is to tell you how to improve. That means they’re willing to risk. That means they’re willing to tell you the truth. That means they want to see you get better. You’re trying to create a sense of internal community as well as connecting to the external. That makes a lot of sense.
Angel Reyna: Pam, who better to tell us how we should improve our institution than our students?
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: On point. You’re absolutely right. If anybody’s going to know how to make it work better for them, it’s going to be them. Wise decision.
Shauna Davis: Hey Pam, can I jump in there? Because there’s one thing that I thought was so cool. Of course, this wasn’t a part of the judging process, but after, or I guess during the announcement, of course, Madera Community College had a viewing party to see so the college community could find out. We highlighted all 10 finalists. So one of the things I wanted to touch on was in the video that the college captured what happened at the moment at which the college community realized that they were the winner, and it just made me think about this when you and Dr. Reyna are talking about the students and community. I’ve watched it 2,000,045 times. If that’s the number on YouTube or wherever it lives, that’s me.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: You’ve made them go viral. I hear you.
Shauna Davis: I’m personally responsible for you going viral. But what I thought was so amazing is that if anyone’s ever seen it, I say watch it again. Because every time I watch it, I see something else. And I think it speaks to what Mary was saying earlier about the entire college owns this. You see the excitement of the students. You see the faculty, you see the administrators, you see the mascot is in awe. You see the students are breaking out into a chant about Madera. They were excited as a community and proud, as they should be, because the college community really just has this energy and this excitement about it. So I know that Dr. Reyna’s talked about trying to create this real sense of belonging, but boy, they are on the right track already.
Shauna Davis: Because when you watch that, I couldn’t think of another time in my career where I’ve seen that, not only just being excited in terms of getting a grant, but faculty, staff, community members, board members, just everyone in the room just jumping for joy, high fiving, the school chant. But when you watch it, you can just see the excitement and the commitment and just how much people already feel like they belong. So I just wanted to point that out. Because if you want to watch it for 2,000,046 times, go take a look at it because it’s quite powerful. And I think that’s what a lot of schools are trying to go after, this idea that our students and our community, that we can come together and we’re proud of ourselves, and we’re proud of being a part of this community.
Shauna Davis: We see a lot of times, the community colleges, they’ll say, “We’re a best-kept secret.” And we’re like, “You shouldn’t be a secret. We don’t want you to be a secret. People should know who you’re and want to be a part of that and be proud of that.” So I just wanted to point that out because that was something else. There wasn’t a dry eye at Lumina Foundation when we received that video. We weren’t expecting it. We’d never seen anything like that. It was exciting. So I’m going to go watch it for 2,000,047 times as soon as we’re done.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: The only words I can think of to … And by the way, we’ll find those videos and attach it to the podcast, so people can see what we’re talking about, including the video that you produced to bring your victory home. But I would call it the best example of a completely joyous, spontaneous celebration. It was magic. I made myself cry. That’s not good. I can’t believe you did that to me, Shauna. Good grief. So Dr. Reyna, I know you must have a plan that you’re putting together, and maybe you had the plan all along and this is just simply accelerated. What kinds of timelines are you looking at so that in implementing and looking at seeing outcomes, what are you thinking?
Angel Reyna: And we want to definitely involve the campus community, and that takes a little bit longer sometimes than what you’d like, but I think it’s the right thing to do. And the murals, I think, are going to be probably the first thing that we get going since we started some of those conversations with our faculty and staff. And everything takes a little bit because we’re in a multi-college district, so we need to work with our district office on how we do things with buildings, et cetera, but that’s definitely the first thing that we are already in motion to look at what next steps we need to do. So I’m hoping sometime in the spring, we can get things going and start to have at least one or a few of the murals started and/or completed. I just need to make sure that … There’s only certain things I can control and make sure that the district moves it along.
Angel Reyna: But then also, with the secondary effects and the space for the multicultural center, that is also something I want to start working on in the spring as well to bring it to completion, hopefully if all goes well. We know there’s supply chain issues with different things, so just being mindful of that. I know I’m being a little too into the weeds, but those things matter, the impact, work getting done. But those are the two major things. And then working, trying to find a consulting firm, that’s something we’re going to get on pretty quickly. That’s an easier box to check and to work through that, to work with our team. And then the website as well, trying to get feedback from the consultants to do that. I’m hoping that we have some progress in the spring on things in motion, and hopefully one of the things completed, if not more than one.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Well, I’d love to have you back in the spring, all of you, to talk about where you are, what’s happening. And it’s not about the things as much as where you think you are in your transformational process. You’re making a major shift and I’d love to catch up with you then if that’s all right with all of you.
Angel Reyna: Yes. That works for me.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: Awesome. Well, okay. I got to say it. Both the Lumina Foundation and Madera College, you guys have honestly done something that has the potential to shift the community on its axis. The college too, but I love it when magic comes together. And I think both the thing that you put together in terms of the competition that makes people think about what would they do if they actually had the resources, and then building on the dream that you already had in process, Dr. Reyna, at Madera, I think you’ve got something magic going on here, and well done.
Angel Reyna: Thank you so much.
Shauna Davis: Thank you so much. Yeah. Thank you so much.
Mary Laphen Pope: We’re excited.
Dr. Pam Cox-Otto: You’re going to come back because I want to hear how things are going. I was talking at the beginning. Those are my stomping grounds. My entire family hails from the Central Valley. I used to be a television news reporter covering that area. Not that they sent me to Madera very often. But, that said, I’d love to see how things are turning out in spring. Thank you so much for joining me, everyone.
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