While in the CANDEL program, Cynthia Sommer (EdD ’18) rotated into various roles at California community college campuses, where the equity gap for Latinx students was troubling her. “Being a Latina and first-generation college student myself, I wasn’t comfortable with the easy story that these students were not ready for college or that their culture doesn’t appreciate having a higher education degree,” she said. “Given my own background and my experiences working with some of these students, I felt there was more to it.”
Through her classwork and dissertation research, Sommer wanted to identify the strategies that were working for Latinx students. She turned her attention to student success courses with a cultural perspective. They seemed to improve persistence, but the meager data available didn’t indicate why.
Sommer interviewed Latinx students about their experiences in these course offerings. She found that the practical skills they acquired were valuable, but the importance of taking a course that recognized and validated their culture meant even more. “Having a teacher and classmates from their same background made college become what it’s supposed to be for them,” Sommer said, “and they developed a confidence that then carried over to their other classes.”
Sommer is now a director in Workforce Development at American River College. “CANDEL paved the way for my transition to educational leadership,” she said. “I love what I’m doing now and I hope to continue finding ways to promote student success. I’m optimistic that I can make a positive change in higher education.”