Student Gina Villaloz is a Coca-Cola ‘Leader of Promise Scholar’

by Nerée Aron-Sando

Gina Villaloz Photo by Sandi Yanisko

Gina Villaloz
Photo by Sandi Yanisko

Gina Villaloz, 29, chose Montgomery County Community College because it was a perfect fit with her life, not necessarily with her budget. Since she is not a county resident, tuition was double the cost. She thought it was worth it.

“The quality of education I receive is extremely important to me even if that means I have to pay extra. I heard so many good things about the College. After taking the tour, I knew it was the perfect fit for me. A bonus was the beautiful scenery I get to see every time I walk on campus,” Villaloz said in an email interview.

Villaloz was selected to receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society as a 2014 Coca-Cola Leader of Promise Scholar. The Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholarship Program provides new Phi Theta Kappa members with financial resources to help defray educational expenses while they are enrolled in associate degree programs.

“Grants have helped greatly! The 2014 Coca Cola Leaders of Promise Scholar scholarship is the first one I have received so far, and it has truly been a blessing. This recognition means everything to my family and me,” Villaloz said. “I am still kind of in shock that I was selected. I know how competitive the scholarship process was. Words cannot express my gratitude. And the best part, my son was so excited to see my name posted on the Phi Theta Kappa website as a recipient. He was just as proud of me as I am of him. As a mother/parent, there is no better feeling than leading by example.”

One example of her leadership is her determination to succeed when she might have been pigeonholed as someone with little potential.

“What’s remarkable about me is that I overcame the stereotype of being a teen mom. I graduated from high school with the best grades of all my high school years, while statistics show more than 50 percent of teen moms drop out. I attended a technical school about a year after high school while working at a local Staples. I am now a mother and a college student working full-time and pursing a higher education.”

While full-time motherhood and full-time work make it difficult for Villaloz to do everything she needs and wants to do, the ability to take courses online has helped.

“A challenge for me has been finding the time to get everything done in the specified time frame,” she said. Balancing work, school, and everything my son’s schedule entails can be tough, but I’ve managed to make it work. Time management and sacrifice play key roles in helping me overcome those tough times.”

She works full time during the day and most College activities take place mostly during the day, she said. “However, I recently became a member of SPARK (Single Parents Achieving and Raising Kids). And it was truly an honor to be a member of Phi Theta Kappa, such an elite organization and community.”

On graduating with her associate’s degree from Montgomery County Community College, Villaloz hopes to transfer to Chestnut Hill to earn a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.

“My ultimate passion is to help others and make a difference any way I can. I aspire to become a juvenile probation officer in Philadelphia and to bring my skills and education into the investigative field one day. I love the research and ‘problem-solving’ aspect of the Criminal Justice field.”

It can be no surprise, then, that one of the most important experiences Villaloz has had at the College was a field trip. “I had the opportunity to sit in on court proceedings for Behavioral Health Court and to take a tour of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility,” she said.

Ultimately, Villaloz would like to become a paralegal.

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, Miss., is the largest honor society in higher education with 1,285 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States, plus Canada, Germany, the Republic of Palau, Peru, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the British Virgin Islands, the United Arab Emirates and U.S. territorial possessions. Nearly 3 million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918, with approximately 132,000 students inducted annually.

Largest Cohort Graduates from ‘POWER Program’

by Alana J. Mauger

Montgomery County Community College celebrated the journey of 36 individuals who successfully completed the fall session of its innovative Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) Program on Dec. 4 during a ceremony at the Central Campus in Blue Bell. The fall 2014 cohort is the largest class since the program’s inception.

The POWER Program helps individuals in mental health recovery to successfully develop and reach their education and career goals through a two-credit college course that focuses on time management, basic computer skills, study skills, public speaking, college success skills, career assessment, resume writing and professionalism.

For the graduates, the POWER Program gives them the confidence and skills they need to take the next steps in their lives. Several participants reflected on their journeys during the ceremony.

“After my first arrest, it became apparent I was trapped in the system,” said Ian Bullock, who aspires to work as a drug and alcohol counselor. “Now, I am clean from drugs, doing well in school, and recently started a job that I love. I learned from my mistakes. I love this program and everyone involved.”

As part of the ceremony, 11 individuals were recognized for their achievements through the POWER Plus Program. These are former POWER participants who are now attending college classes or are currently employed as a result of completing the program. For the first time, POWER Plus offered two classes during the fall semester: POWER Employment Plus and POWER Education Plus. Many students choose to participate in both.

Student Gail Tinneny participated in both POWER Employment Plus and POWER Education Plus while enrolled in the College’s Human Services program.

“The POWER Program boosted my confidence and helped me and my boys get in the right path in life,” she shared.

POWER Community Liaison Lori Schreiber presented a POWER Advocate Award to Eric Goldstein, who is retiring from his post as Administrator for the Montgomery County Office of Behavioral Health.

“Eric has been our biggest supporter since we started this program in 2006,” said Schreiber, noting that Goldstein was an early advocate that individuals in mental health recovery can be successful students and employees, and not just patients.

Accepting the award, Goldstein explained, “the POWER Program is a collective dream—that you, as a citizen of Montgomery County, regardless of diagnosis, have an opportunity to go to college, make friends, and be part of a group.”

The College’s POWER team consists of Associate Professor of Human Services and Program Director Diane Harr; Program Coordinator/Advisor Lisa Barbiero; Community Liaison/Advisor Lori Schreiber; Employment Coordinator Tarsha Scovens; Faculty Byron Goldstein; Peer Mentor George Rohde; Administrative Coordinator Dianne Johnson; and Dean of Social Sciences Dr. Aaron Shatzman.

Montgomery County Community College and the Office of Montgomery County Behavioral Health/Development Disabilities provide funding for POWER and POWER Plus Programs, which also receive support from the Huston Foundation, Patricia Kind Foundation, the OddFellows of Philadelphia and other private foundations. However, the programs are in need of funding to continue next year.

Individuals interested in the POWER program may obtain a referral from their mental health or school provider or may self-refer. For more information, contact Lori Schreiber at 215-461-1151 or or Lisa Barbiero at 215-641-6425 or

POWER and POWER Plus Program participants at the Dec. 4 graduation ceremony.  Photo by Sandi Yanisko

POWER and POWER Plus Program participants at the Dec. 4 graduation ceremony. Photo by Sandi Yanisko

VIDEO: ‘The Buzz Update,’ Week of 12/8/14

Check out “The Buzz Update” for the week of Dec. 8, 2014. The program is student produced by the Communicating Arts Production Group (CAPG) at Montgomery County Community College.

White House Publishes Student Retention & Completion Progress

by Denise Portner

White House logo copyThe progress that Montgomery County Community College has made in student retention and completion as part of its participation in an elite group of thought leaders in education is documented in a 2014 report presented during a presidential summit at the White House on Dec. 4. The progress report is a follow-up on commitments made at the Jan. 16, 2014 College Opportunity Day of Action, designed to expand college opportunity for all students.

“We are proud of the progress made this year, and we’ll build on that momentum in 2015 to continue improving college access for low-income and disadvantaged students,” said Montgomery President Dr. Karen A. Stout. “Montgomery County Community College’s participation in these national conversations underscores our commitment to systematic improvements in the areas of access and completion that anchor our work as an Achieving the Dream Leader College.”

The national dialogue on college readiness began on Jan. 16, 2014 during a Summit convened by U.S. President Barack Obama. That summit saw approximately 140 leaders from higher education, philanthropic organizations, businesses and local and state governments launch a plan of action for increasing college opportunity for low-income and disadvantaged students.

Through Dr. Stout’s participation in the White House Summit, the College has focused on three specific initiatives aimed at improving access for low-income and disadvantaged students. These include redesigning student entry and advising processes, developing a multi-platform model for student engagement, and expanding its minority student mentoring initiative.

All three programs are part of the College’s  Student Success Initiative, which works to expand access to higher education and increase student success through innovative process improvements and support strategies that reduce the barriers for students to complete their education. In 2011, Montgomery was designated an Achieving the Dream Leader College, an elite group of 73 community colleges across the country that have demonstrated committed leadership, use of evidence to improve programs and services, broad engagement, and systematic institutional improvement. In February, the College earned the prestigious Leah Meyer Austin Award from Achieving the Dream for its continued improvement of student access and success.

The White House published the following progress report on Montgomery County Community College’s initiatives:

Montgomery County Community College (Montgomery County, PA)

College Opportunity Commitment: Montgomery County Community College committed to help low-income students successfully complete a certificate or degree at the College. First, to improve student retention and completion, the College reviewed and then redesigned the student entry and advising process. The technology integration included four components: early alert, a self-service student appointment scheduling, student academic planning, and student/faculty dashboards that support student academic planning and advising.

Second, the College is developing “New Literacy” modules designed to support student success in three areas: financial, digital, and civic literacy. The initiative is supported through the EDUCAUSE Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) Breakthrough Models Incubator (BMI13).

The third initiative, the Minority Student Mentoring program, provides each participant with a personal mentor. College faculty, administrators, and staff volunteer are mentors that support and guide their mentee throughout their College engagement. Additionally, this cohort of students receives support from the Office of Minority Student Mentoring including personal development workshops, academic advisement, and leadership development.

Progress Made: In spring 2014, the College implemented student self-service appointment scheduling and piloted a student early alert system. The early alert system launch resulted in 93% faculty participation compared to an average 71% participation in previous semesters. As of fall 2014, the early alert system has been fully implemented, with all faculty encouraged to send student alerts as needed. Many faculty are also using the early alert system to send kudos to students.

Additionally, all new fall 2014 full-time students will be meeting with their academic advisors to develop their student educational plan. Currently, the College is working on designing dashboards that include data on educational planning, demographics, and course participation.

Over the past year, the College has developed and implemented an online resource that supports financial literacy, a social media campaign to support the Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) and a series of 30 second information videos on various financial literacy/services topics. The online resource created, Montco Money Matters, is open source and available through Blackboard CourseSites.

In addition, in May 2014, the College was awarded an additional NGLC BMI13 grant to further develop financial, civic, and digital literacy online resources. Early results of this investment have shown a decrease in the number of students cancelled for non-payment. Finally, over the past year, students who participated in the Minority Student Mentoring program persisted at a rate higher than non-participants (73% compared to 66%) and 25 students graduated.