Ready to Rock… RCC Brings it Online for Fall 2020

The anticipation of pumpkin spice lattes, the days slowly growing shorter, and the arthritic crackle of new textbook covers… It’s starting to feel like the season for going back to school.

Except this year, digital devices will replace spiral-bound notebooks, and touchscreen styluses shall supplant the usual number-two pencils. Higher education has marched forward online this fall, and at Riverside City College, that means more high-quality instruction and high-touch support… on a dialed-in digital platform.

“No matter the circumstances, we know our students are ready for us,” says Dr. Shari Yates, Interim Dean of Instruction of Career and Technical Education at RCC. “We owe it to them to continue to teach and prepare them to be ready for the workforce or transferring.”

Beginning in March, the health crisis presented a formidable challenge for the College, as leadership scrambled to adapt services remotely. But with perseverance, forward-thinking, and a commitment to students, the crisis has reconnected the RCC family, leaving it stronger than ever.  

“The pandemic threw Riverside City College into uncharted COVID waters,” says Yates.

In deepest were those Career and Technical Education (CTE) learners whose hands-on classes could not be converted online. Even so, faculty and administration collaborated in record time to launch virtual courses for the majority of programs.

Despite adversity, the class of 2020 graduated with 4,528 degrees and certificates — surpassing the total number awarded in 2019.

“I cannot tell you how impressed I am with the accomplishments of the students, as evidenced by the increased completion rates,” says Yates. “The students are truly remarkable.”

It’s no surprise to the Tiger team that the College is navigating the crisis so smoothly. After all, RCC recently ranked as one of the country’s “Top 50 Community Colleges 2020,” according to College Consensus. Riverside earned the distinction for displaying the best in educational quality, rewarding income, and reputation.

Instructors took that same commitment to excellence and channeled it into virtual instruction. As Riverside President Dr. Gregory Anderson says in his June video address, “The members of the faculty stretched themselves in new ways as they held themselves and their students to the highest academic standards.”

“To see the faculty rise to the challenge was awe-inspiring,” adds Yates. “Even more impressive was their perseverance and tenacity to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of pivoting face-to-face instruction to online in one week.”

On top of keeping learners on-time with their degrees, the school went all-in on student support. Essential services like nursing advice, telehealth and teletherapy became available quickly via video conferencing and phone.

For academic assistance, virtual tutoring is now offered 24/7, with additional online resources, including digital databases, e-books, streaming videos, chat, workshops and tutorials, available through the library. From launching a laptop loan program that distributed 350 computers in the spring to converting the parking lots into Wi-Fi hotspots, the school is dedicated to ensuring every student has access to classes.

And when the workforce needed solutions, Riverside was ready. In a time of record-high employment, RCC’s CTE department partnered with the Riverside County Workforce Development Board to host a webinar on the no-cost Rapid Response program, helping learners get back to work as quickly as possible following a layoff or closure. Meanwhile, the school partnered with TODEC Legal Center to offer free legal help to undocumented students, while the RCC food pantry has been distributing “grab-n-go” bags since March for those in need.

In an effort to keep spirits high, the school also provided outlets for creativity. The College’s literary magazine, RCC Muse, hosted several “Quarantine Readings” streaming live on Instagram, and the Quad Art Gallery presented a virtual exhibition of student artwork. Students even found a way to collaborate musically, with members of the RCC Guitar Ensemble individually recording their parts of Johan Helmich Roman’s “Air” and mixing it to create an uplifting remote recording.

“I have gratitude for the artists, musicians, poets and others who kept creativity at the core through the power of performance,” Anderson reflects.

The good vibes will carry forward into the fall semester, expects Yates, with that same spirit of resilience and positivity shining through. Between jokes about consulting the Psychic Friends Network, she admits that the uncertainty was uncomfortable: “In reality, there was not an answer to the question of exactly when the College would be allowed to have students on campus.”

Most of the state’s 115 community colleges will not be able to offer in-person classes this fall, according to a recent statement by Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley. As the coronavirus outbreak intensifies, killing more than 150,000 Americans and threatening millions more, universities that had planned to open their campuses are now keeping their doors shut. Nationwide, the growing ranks of online-only schools now include the University of California, Berkeley; Georgetown University; Washington State University; and the largest institution of higher education in the country, Miami Dade College.

While RCC is not yet providing an exact reopening date, it is taking steps to offer clarity. Weekly Zoom meetings allow faculty and staff to share information, while emailed weekly updates keep the CTE division up to speed. Most importantly, says Yates, “Hundreds of phone calls were made to students to assist them as we learned of their needs.”

“It has been a humbling and extraordinary experience to work with the dedication and professionalism of the CTE team.”

To supplement the College-wide effort, President Anderson hosted virtual office hours, inviting students to connect on Zoom to discuss challenges, give feedback or ask questions. Warm videos featuring Anderson sharing the latest news were posted on social media, alongside critical updates on how students could receive one-on-one virtual help applying for resources, like the CARES Act for emergency funds.

Riverside City College is on track to offer most classes online this fall and will continue to provide timely updates to the college community as on-campus courses become available. “We’re here to keep you informed,” says Anderson in his most recent video update to students. “More importantly, we’re here to support your success. Every faculty member, every staff member, cares about each of you.”

For Yates, working with RCC’s leadership has been rewarding. That incredible cross-departmental synergy, she says, was key to weathering the “COVID storm.”

“If another crisis surfaces, we will also be ready,” assures the Dean. “Our students deserve the best education.”

With the fall semester just around the corner, RCC students are primed for success. As Riverside Community College District Chancellor Dr. Wolde-Ab Isaac shares in this year’s welcome video to incoming freshman, “You are launching your collegiate career during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic … but you can still achieve an excellent education.”

His advice to the future, crisis-tempered class of 2022?

“Stay resilient, stay focused, and stay engaged. Your success is on the horizon.”