South Texas College takes initiative to ‘level the playing field’ for all
South Texas College’s Manager for Equity and Diversity Maricela Oliva, Ph.D., center, greets recipients of the annual John G. and Maria Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation grant recently at STC’s Technology campus. Now a year into her position at the college, Oliva said her first priority when she began in 2022 was identifying students in order to address their needs.
Since its inception one year ago, South Texas College’s department of Diversity and Equity established to meet the needs of at-risk, non-traditional students within the college’s Division of Business, Public Safety and Technology division has celebrated significant milestones by focusing on the college’s diverse student population and their success.
STC’s new Manager for Equity and Diversity, Maricela Oliva, Ph.D., who is also celebrating one year with the college, said one of the primary objectives of the new department has been to utilize data to create targeted programs for underrepresented students, especially those in Career and Technology Education (CTE) programs, who have had invisible challenges going to and succeeding in college.
The extent that the college understands its diverse students and their needs will have a direct impact on how far they go in their future careers, she said.
“One of the first things I needed was data from students to identify those eligible for services. Improving access to pertinent data has been a huge focus during my first year,” Oliva said. “For example, Career and Technical Education programs in our division are often male-dominated, although women can be as effective and successful. We have learned from research that when you improve conditions for students with the most challenges, everyone benefits because the institution becomes more welcoming and supportive for all.”
Are our students really being given equal opportunity? Are they being given access to opportunities, to resources and to school the way that everybody else is… Dr. Oliva being part of our division is really kickstarting efforts across our institution, which itself is part of a much larger effort across the state and the nation.
Oliva added that industry representatives have pointed out the need to restart Women in Technology outreach programs, which were suspended during COVID-19.
“I would like to have initiatives like that to intentionally address the needs of various student groups,” she said. “Students are not all the same, so our programming also cannot be, and this requires some creativity and partnership.”
One student, Yahira Sanchez, 26, says she is close to completing an associate degree in Welding, and will likely finish in the fall. Also a recent recipient of a Kenedy Scholarship given to students enrolled in career and technical programs, Sanchez said the college goes to great lengths to level the playing field so she has as much opportunity in the industry as her male counterparts.
“I was hesitant to start, because welding was completely out of my comfort zone. All my classmates who were male were more than curious as to what I was doing in the field,” Sanchez said. “I know welding is a male-dominated career choice, but I am prepared. It won’t stop me. I want to have a fabrication shop of my own one day and work on cars. STC has taught me to believe in what I can do.”
Leadership with STC’s Division of Business, Public Safety, Technology say they look forward to working with Oliva, who was hired to establish the Diversity and Equity department, in the years ahead to bring their ideas to life when it comes to creating new and exciting programs and funding to address the needs of students like Sanchez.
“Dr. Oliva’s role in the division has really been impactful in getting all of our department chairs to understand equity and access. Are our students really being given equal opportunity? Are they being given access to opportunities, to resources and to school the way that everybody else is,” said Sara Lozano, dean of STC’s Business, Public Safety and Technology Division. “Her focus for all of our CTE has been trying to get the department chairs to think outside of the box and to consider how to bring equal opportunity for students. Moving forward, her being part of our division is really kickstarting efforts across our institution, which itself is part of a much larger effort across the state and the nation.”
Oliva said the role she has served in over the last year is the latest incarnation of a decades long push in Texas for higher education opportunity. She added STC has solidified its role as a beacon of equality for communities.
“The movement to increase higher education access and equity has a long history,” Oliva said. “The creation of STC is itself an effort at access and equity for an important area of South Texas that did not have meaningful access to opportunity through a community college in the 1990s.”
Oliva said STC is on track with other community colleges throughout the state that are achieving remarkable results in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion by creating apprenticeship programs for women, promise scholarship programs that will cover tuition costs, more transfer options from two to four-year institutions and innovative data collection and management to identify at-risk students.
“Our leadership at STC recognizes the need to create opportunity for students and to foster their success,” Oliva said. “If we keep a focus on our diverse students and their success, it is not hard to convince colleagues to value equity and access. When students are not educated, they get left behind, and when too many of our students are not achieving their educational goals, the whole region gets left behind.”
For more information on STC’s Diversity and Equity department and to learn more about STC’s Career and Technology Education programs, visit www.southtexascollege.edu/cte/.