Madison College Is Open and Ready to Serve Students This Fall: Meeting Students Where They Are
The Madison College Outreach Team: Dulce Danel, associate manager of community engagement (l-r), Torvic Caradine, manager of student recruitment and community outreach, Nicole Sandoval, lead student recruitment coordinator and Valentian Ahedo, vice-president for the Goodman South Campus in the School of Academic Advancement
By Jonathan Gramling
All during the COVID-19 pandemic, Madison College has been there providing classes and academic and support services. While adhering rigorously to health and safety guidelines, the staff has creatively worked to keep students engaged and to give them the support that they need. For example, the bookstore had to close its physical location, but students still needed books for online and virtual classes.
“We used to have lines at the bookstore at Truax,” said Valentina “Tina” Ahedo, associate vice-president for the Goodman South Campus in the School of Academic Advancement. “We couldn’t have that anymore, so we became, in a way, like a mini-Amazon. But you still needed a distribution center. And so we got really good at doing bookstore pick-ups. We would do drive-thrus with people coming and lining up. We had the whole thing set up. We were out in the parking lot with balloons. We got really good at that. For our graduation celebrations, we did parades outside. And so, we were still here. People were still able to come in. Just mentally, they just weren’t in that headspace yet to think about what that means.”
The Madison College staff also worked to get as many students as possible wired into the world of virtual instruction.
“We engaged in a laptop distribution program,” Ahedo said. “So if you didn’t have a laptop and you didn’t have Internet — that’s not just in Madison, but also in our regional campuses where rural areas don’t have access to high-speed Internet — we were distributing that equipment for people who raised their hands and students who said that they needed that.”
The Madison College outreach team was also on the job reaching out to students and perspective student to recruit them or keep them engaged. They say life is about relationships, and the outreach team relied on the strong relationships they had forged with schools.
“When the pandemic hit, we were one of the few colleges where our counselors were allowed into the Big Eight meetings,” said Torvic Caradine, manager of Student Recruitment and Community Outreach. “In Dane County, all of the counselors have a meeting once per month and they try to figure out what are the best ways to go to. They invited Madison College to that. I was able to sit in on those meetings and talk to them and ask how we could assist them in getting their students the best options to go to school.”
During the pandemic, Caradine and the others noticed a trend that he would have never thought possible.
“We found out that high school students needed the face-to-face interaction more so than going online,” Caradine said. “That’s not how I thought it would have been because most students are very adept with their electronics: iPads, iPhones and computers. But the returning adults were able to navigate online more so than the high school students because they do they need the interaction with their peers. And so we saw a steep drop in that. Last year, we did a call-in campaign to talk with as many students as we possibly could to see if we could get them to take their classes. Some did. Some thrived. Some did not.”
The good news is that Madison College facilities are once again open for in-person classes this fall, although there is mandatory face mask wearing indoors.
“We’re going to be shifting to having more in-person types of courses beyond the courses that typically require the in-person component such as our nursing and emergency services and hands-on trades classes,” Ahedo said. “We’re expanding that. One of the things that we’ve really looked at to guide us were our student success levels. So where our students with classes could stand to benefit from having in-person, we are holding those so that student success really happens. As we do that and we are trying to move out of this full virtual-remoter world, we’re really trying to intentionally re-engage the community. For us here at Goodman South, for example, we’ve been out in the community. We have very strong ties with our community partners and really try to stay tuned in with what’s going on.”
And so now the outreach team is working hard to reach students where they are. For example, they held Start Smart sessions out in the community instead of having students come to campus.
“The biggest goal is we know students have the need and have the want to do things,” said Dulce Danel, associate manager of community engagement. “And we just want to make sure to outreach to say, ‘We know you want to do some things. Tell us how we can help you. And we are going to try to help you however we can. We actually have two events that are going to be happening out in the community. We will be out in Sun Prairie tonight and out in Fitchburg on Monday night just to eliminate the need for transportation. We want to say, ‘We’re in here in your community after work. We’ll have food. Recruitment will be there. Financial aid will be there. Advising will be there. Come and stop in. We can help you get ready and reengage with the college.’”
The staff is really pumped to make a difference in people’s lives and are doing everything they can to draw students in so that the students can get on with their lives, start dreaming again and then get equipped to achieve those dreams.
“You can come in and make a change in your career,” Danel emphasized. “But I think people are really looking to see how they can come in and make a change. That’s the amazing thing about Madison College. I love telling students that just about anything they want to learn or study, we can get them their or be the first stop to getting that bachelor’s or master’s degree. We have amazing programs. I often think often about med tech, which is a one year health program where students can come in and it is kind of limitless in that we have graduates who are working everywhere from the Dean Eye Clinic to organ donation in Wisconsin for corneas. Whatever students want to do, we can help them. That is why our recruitment team is so essential. They sit down with students. They talk about the over 150 programs that we have. If people want to make a change in their career or just do something a little bit different, Madison College is here to help and get them to where they want to go.”
One way to draw students in is with safety-protocolled campus tours.
“Our daily tours are just general campus tours,” said Nicole Sandoval, lead student recruitment coordinator. “We cover our two main buildings over at the Truax campus. We try to touch on the different program areas like machine tooling, welding, vet tech and showing them our different student services and ways they can engage in sports and different services they can receive on campus through cosmetology, culinary kitchens and other areas. We also provide other services. Pre-pandemic, you could get a meal for $5 on campus or you could stop in the bakery and get a cookie for a dollar. There is a lot of interaction happening between the different programs. For instance, our health care students often work with the paramedic students or do some kind of simulation with the criminal justice and the paramedics. You see that across the college in how all of our programs kind of interwork with each other. That is something that we like to share with our students as well because when you are out in the real world, you’re not just working in your field. You have to learn to work with multiple different areas and we want to simulate that as our students come into campus.”
And again, they have met students where they are at to give them the good news that Madison College is back to in-person, including a texting campaign, which reaches students in a way that phone calls don’t.
“Yesterday we launched a texting platform,” Caradine said. “We’re getting the numbers today, but I saw as I was walking through it, we had so many responding back to us. So many people said, ‘Please help me. I need help with my financial aid.’ We were able to interact with those students and get them to the areas in which they need to go. I believe the texting platform that we have now is going to be so beneficial to the college and the students because they will be able to get the information that they need.”
What is most important to staff is to see the students on campus achieving their dreams once more.
“We’re back to open hours,” Ahedo said. “Our library services are available. We’re here. Truax is available. We’ve got advising and counseling and all of those other support services that students need in-person and available and the campus is open and anyone is welcome when we are open. I’m very excited about this fall. We’re going to welcome back the Early College STEM Academy. Those students will be coming in. They are really excited and we will be welcoming them in for orientation next week. We’ll have our early childhood education program coming back in-person. That is a program where they really found that the in-person, hands-on kind of format worked well for them. And of course, our nursing folks have always been here and they will be here in full-force as well. I’m really excited. We never closed.”
Students can enroll now for in-person, hybrid and virtual classes. Visit www.madisoncollege.edu/academics/search to find out what is being offered this fall.