LEARN at West LA College Where Everyone Can Succeed
Jennifer Zhu from Beijing, China has experienced great success in modeling and acting in the United States. Recently, she even won First Runner Up in the 2015 Queen of Hollywood pageant held at Universal Studios. But Zhu was not as accomplished in college-level mathematics at West Los Angeles College. Here she struggled, but found the help she needed at the college’s LEARN center.
LEARN program faculty advisor Timothy Gilmore recalled first meeting Zhu who was a little embarrassed about seeking tutoring. After all, he said, she was facing the stereotype that all Asians excel in math. But Zhu had heard from other students that the LEARN Center was a place where all were welcomed and students got what they needed to advance.
LEARN was established at West under a grant with the primary goal of assisting African American males thrive academically, earn a degree and transfer to competitive universities. For a variety of social and historical reasons, African American males as a group do not have the same success statistics in college as some other ethnic and cultural groups, explained Dr. Adrienne Foster, Director of the LEARN program. However, word spread of the approaches and strategies being used in LEARN as well as the supportive culture between students and students and staff/faculty. Today, LEARN serves men and women of diverse backgrounds and cultures in addition to its core constituency of African American males.
The diversity, says Gilmore, is an asset to the program and its students. “As you transition into the university and working in society, you will be interacting with people from different ethnic groups and identities. We’ve found that the diversity not only helps the African American students become more familiar with other cultures, it allows other students to better understand African Americans.” The students, Gilmore continued, don’t just come in for tutoring or other assistance, they speak to each other, get to know each other, and break down barriers. “It’s about seeing the human part of each other.”
The secret to LEARN’s success is not using a cookie-cutter approach to working with students and making them responsible for their outcomes. When students come to LEARN, the faculty/staff strive to work with them as individuals accessing learning styles, offering encouragement and connecting them to appropriate resources in, or outside of the college. The student might be matched with a mentor or simply benefit from having an emotionally safe or nurturing space to develop. Additionally, students cannot come to LEARN and just receive services. They must also contribute effort to the program. For example, some tutor in the areas in which they are strong. Others read to pre-school children in the on-campus daycare center.
In addition to tutoring and mentoring, LEARN students have had the opportunity to go on university field trips and tours, meet elected officials, and attend life skill seminars. Approximately 70% of students who have participated in the program have gone on to transfer to universities to complete the second half of their Bachelor’s degrees including UCLA, UC Berkeley, USC, Columbia, Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State Northridge.
West was founded in 1969 and is located in the scenic hills where West Los Angeles and Culver City meet. The college is just minutes from the beach, trendy restaurants and hot spots in downtown Culver City and the Westfield Mall. From the campus library, a student can enjoy a panoramic view from the sun glinting off the ocean in Playa del Rey to the towers of Century City. The 70 park-like acres are part of what has given the college its reputation for having a small private college feel, but at a public community college price. Students at West come to complete the first two years of their Bachelor’s degrees at a lower cost before transferring to competitive universities as juniors. Others come to prepare for satisfying careers in healthcare, computer science information technology, paralegal, business, firefighting, law enforcement and more.
This year, West anticipates a record number of international students. It is a program that is growing over 25 percent per year. For international students, West offers an ideal location minutes from the Los Angeles Airport (LAX). It is also an easy commute to Hollywood, Sony Studios, the Getty, the County Museum of Art, and Century City. The safe, beautiful college offers an English Language Academy for those who need it.