By Michael Flanders
Nicole offers broad experience in the community college sphere, as a faculty member and leader. She began 14 years ago as an Intern within the California Community Colleges, then quickly progressed into a part-time, then full-time counselor position at San Diego Miramar and Cuyamaca Colleges. At Cuyamaca, she rose to the rank of Counseling Department Chair before her promotion three years ago to Dean of Counseling Services. In this position, she brings her experience and insights to oversee all school counseling activities, high school outreach programs, and community relations efforts. Since 2011, she has also been lecturing part-time on counseling and career planning at San Diego State University.
Through it all, Nicole has kept her eye focused squarely on her overarching goal: helping students achieve educational success. Her educational philosophy is fully informed by the “Vision for Success,” promulgated by the California Community Colleges Chancellor, Eloy Oakley and created to increase educational equity. She’s adhered to those principles to ensure that all students have access to college, regardless of their ethnicity, financial standing or orientation. In practice, she worked hard to identify those underserved students and developed many of the programs and supports they needed to progress, such as one of the first college-based Veterans Resource Centers in San Diego and a program offering mental health services to students.
Nicole remains acutely aware of the challenges faced by the Southwestern College Board of Trustees:
• Today’s students come from diverse backgrounds, facing many challenges as college students. Homelessness, food insecurity and mental health concerns are daily burdens for some, while others must overcome other hurdles in their quest for an education, such as being a former foster child or coming from a family that does not have a history of higher education.
• Today’s political climate also challenges all community college participants, and racism and sexism are evident on more college campuses than we previously knew. While much of the country may see only divisions, Nicole sees on Southwestern’s campus a rich, multi-hued culture that embraces students of all types – African Americans; Latinx; refugees; DACA; the formerly incarcerated; the ability-challenged, and mid-career students, to name just a few. She promises each the same benefits and supports as are offered to all the others.
• Not insignificantly, today’s community colleges have been tasked with reinventing themselves to ensure their students don’t just attend college, but also graduate and find fulfilling and rewarding work in the community besides.
Nicole’s educational history and background in counseling and psychotherapy provide her with the unique and focused tools needed by its Board to address these concerns, as well as the myriad of other problems that currently exist at Southwestern College.
Nicole is very proud of her endorsers, including the Southwestern College Education Association, the school’s faculty union, who chose her after six months of discussions revealed her to be the right person for the role. She is also endorsed by The National Women’s Political Caucus and several elected officials including Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber, who appreciated the careful and nuanced support that Nicole offered her son as his counselor during his community college days.
I believe these two women share a vision for Southwestern’s future, which includes more – and more diverse – students finding school funding, completing programs, pursuing transfer degrees, and, most importantly, finding the careers they seek within their chosen industries.
Looking forward, like thousands of other experienced educators across the country, Nicole embraces the promise offered by the California Guided Pathways practice for improving student outcomes. By redesigning programs and curricula to meet the needs of today’s businesses and industries, Guided Pathways is transforming community colleges into the economic engines of the future. Achieving the Guided Pathways transformation requires the critical knowledge and experience that Nicole will bring to the Southwestern College Board; she knows how educational policy translates into teaching practice and how those practices lay the foundation for future success.
Nicole’s history and experience will also enrich the Board because it parallels that of the outgoing Seat 4 representative, who is also a career educator and who also rose through the ranks of the college counseling community to become both a college President and Board Member. Electing Nicole will retain in Seat 4 the same keen eye and deep understanding of educational challenges, purposes, and goals as those have been offered during the past four years.
Nicole shared with me her three priorities for her work on the Southwestern College Board:
1. Increase graduation and student success rates, as those are determined by relevant school data. Too many students spend too much time in courses that aren’t designed to move them into a career.
2. Strengthen the school’s relationships with local high schools, local apprenticeship programs and the community in general. The eight cities that feed into Southwestern College offer a myriad of untapped resources and opportunities which should be accessible by all learners, from middle schoolers to seniors.
3. Despite perceived tensions, all students yearn for the same thing regardless of their background or circumstances: a quality education that will enhance the quality of their life. To provide that, Nicole will develop an environment of inclusion, equity and mutual respect that will permeate all aspects of the school.
Elect Nicole Jones to ensure that all students can find and attain the career path they seek on the campus of Southwestern College.
Michael Flanders provides technical and consulting services to many of Southern California’s community colleges.