Tyree Wieder Position: President, L.A. Valley College Born: South Central Los Angeles, Nov. 3, 1946 Education: Bachelor’s degree in sociology and master’s degree in educational psychology, CSUN. Doctorate in higher education administration, UCLA. Most Admired Person: Her grandfather Personal: Married, one daughter By JENNIFER NETHERBY Staff Reporter As other Los Angeles community colleges struggle with funding cuts, enrollment drops and demands for more classes, L.A. Valley College is seeing a rebirth. And many are crediting the college’s president, Tyree Wieder. Valley College has posted steady enrollment increases from 4,000 when Wieder took over in 1995 to 5,600 today. Concurrently, the college has rapidly expanded its class offerings. While Valley College has faced the same funding constraints as other local community colleges, Wieder has made a point of reaching out to private contributors for equipment and donations. Much of the money is being earmarked for a planned $1 million Media Arts Academy building. Under her direction, the college has put business partnerships on the front burner, forging training collaborations between the school and local employers, including Wal-Mart and Bank of America. Through those collaborations, Valley College has trained and placed 700 current and former welfare recipients and unemployed workers in jobs. The vast majority of those workers remain on the job today. An active member of Valley business groups, Wieder says schools need the business community if they are to properly prepare students for the world of work. Question: Other Los Angeles community colleges have suffered enrollment declines, but yours is going up. What are you doing differently? Answer: We sat down and took a look at what our community needed in the way of courses, when they were offered and specifically what courses were offered. The office of academic affairs has been working with the department chairs to really look at the statistics on their classes which classes had good enrollments, which ones didn’t, making sure that we weren’t offering two of the same courses at one time. As we’ve added courses, we’ve been very selective about where we’ve added them. We added them in areas where there was a specific need that we could identify. Q: How prepared, academically, are the students who are coming to you right out of high school, and what does it take to bring them up to par? A: It’s a very mixed bag, unfortunately, which is difficult for our faculty. We have one set of students who are interested in our Transfer Alliance Program with the universities, and that program has expanded. A few years ago we had maybe four classes and now there’s something like 34. Those high school students are coming here because it’s difficult to get into the UCs and they know that if they come here in our Transfer Alliance Program, 98 percent are admitted to UCLA and UCSB and those four-year universities. The other group of students that are coming here are some that didn’t really do well in high school, and there is an issue with those students’ basic skills. Many of them test into lower levels of freshman English. And there’s a series of two to three courses they need prior to taking 101. We have met with our matriculation committee and they have strongly urged us to get the English department to add a few levels lower. We were finding that students were testing below our lowest level of English, so we’re answering that call by adding some lower-level classes. Q: Are Los Angeles community colleges doing a good job preparing students for the workforce? A: Absolutely. I co-chair the Economic Alliance Initiative on workforce preparedness and the Valley Economic Development Corp. gave us the results of their survey (in February). They had surveyed employers in the greater San Fernando Valley asking them, “What training programs do you know about and where do you get your people from?” Quite a large percentage said, “the community colleges.” We were pleased that employers were very much aware of where we are and who we are. But in addition to that, we have advisory committees (on which employers serve) and we’re always looking for employers in the area to send their representatives to serve on them. We try to get advice from industry as we’re going along. I think there’s an awareness in the business community that, in the technical areas, they can call us. Q: What could the colleges do better? A: I think we could definitely do more. We have some traditional programs that we’ve worked with a lot. One of the issues with industry right now is that industry in general is changing very rapidly and sometimes it’s hard for us to keep up with that, especially in areas of technology. We would like to have more partnerships where we have students actually on job sites working. Our faculty could participate in a similar way by “job shadowing,” actually working in an outside industry over the summer at a newspaper, a bank, a local financing agency, a local CPA firm so that they’re in the mix of what’s happening. Then they can come back and incorporate those experiences into their classes in the fall. Q: Valley College is credited with placing 700 former welfare recipients in jobs. How does that program work? A: Some of them come to us on their own, others are referred by the welfare office. And in the last year, those people who have the most amount of work experience have gone to work first. So now it seems we’re getting to the point where we’re dealing with people who have less work experience and less of what we call “soft” skills. Those are skills like getting to work on time, understanding what your responsibilities as an employee are, learning to work with others, teamwork, all those things that are not a specific skill. That’s the population we’re sort of dealing with now. That population also tends to need more-basic skills. We just start with where they’re at and work with them and try to move them up. Q: How does that differ from the job training partnerships you’ve established with Burbank Aeronautical Corp., Wal-Mart and Bank of America? How do these partnerships work? A: The city of Los Angeles does have funding for people who are displaced workers and new workers going to work. The idea is that we sit down with an employer and we match up those employer needs. In both of those instances we ask the employer, “What is it that you’re looking for, what skills do you need, what positions do you need to fill?” And we write up a curriculum with those employers. Then we sit down with the employer and the employer helps pre-screen the individual ahead of time and so that they know who they’re getting. We go through the interview process with them. We take those individuals in, they go through the training and then they’re hired by the employer. Q: How did you get businesses to pledge their support to the college? A: We have some faculty and staff that are very outstanding, that have wonderful reputations. Last spring we held on campus, in conjunction with the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a meeting that invited several hundred employers. And we’ve had employers ones who’ve hired our welfare recipients, who’ve hired our trainees talk to other employers and they said, “We’ve hired these people; it worked out wonderfully for us.” Those employers then said, “Let me take a look at this,” and then contacted us for training opportunities. We’re looking for more partnerships like the one we have with Haas Automation (a machine tool manufacturer). Haas was looking for a place to put their new equipment. The win-win is that we took one of our classrooms, modified it, cut a very large hole in the wall so they could bring this equipment in and out, and they stationed their latest equipment here. Our students get to use the equipment and it’s sort of a showroom for them. Q: Explain what you’re trying to build in terms of your media arts program and what you need in the way of support. A: We have been teaching media classes on this campus for years. We’ve had cinema, we’ve had television broadcasting, radio broadcasting, art classes for graphic design. We’ve had those for a long time, but we’ve never put them all together in a concentrated form. The idea of the media arts academy is that we are sort of putting all of our programs together. Our advisory committee has said to us, “We’re not interested in people who know how to do one thing.” They want our students to have a broad understanding of media and how it operates, so that they’re coming in with the understanding of the totality of what media arts is about. In the process of that, we had a friend of the college donate $500,000 to help us build a new facility on campus where we could bring all of those programs together. So we’ve contacted folks in the industry and a lot of private citizens are contributing to our goal of raising an additional $500,000. Q: How far along are you in reaching your goal? A: We’re not as far along as I would like for us to be. The donor is aware that we are out there talking to folks and getting donations. But it is not where we need to be. We had hoped to be at the halfway mark at this point and we’re not. Q: How did you get into this business? A: In college I knew that I was interested in doing something in public service. I actually started in the employment service area and matching people with jobs through career counseling. And from that, when I worked on my master’s degree in psych, I became interested in the educational aspect, and that put me in the community colleges. I started out as a counselor, but I found myself being more involved in the administrative area, working on things that I thought there was a better way to do something. And that tended to be more administrative, so that nudged me into the role of an administrator. Q: What brought you to Valley College? A: I was working down at the L.A. Community College district office and I was called and told that the vice presidency at Valley College was open and I should apply for it. People were encouraging me to make the move to Valley. Q: What is the biggest challenge that schools face in preparing students for the working world? A: The easy answer is always money, but I don’t think money is it. Money is an important issue, clearly. But we have a society that sends mixed messages to students about the importance of education. We say it’s important, but then in this state schools are funded much less than in other states. So therefore I think it’s easy to have students not be as vested in education as they should be. I see that as a big problem. I think it would be helpful if society really meant what it said about supporting education and feeling that education is important. Obviously there has to be funding, but also there needs to be a respect, a genuine respect, for education that I don’t see our society giving.