Getting Technical about Student Success
Seven years ago, Queensborough Community College, the NYC Department of Education, the Early College Initiative at the City University of New York (CUNY), and global technology company SAP established an education partnership known as BTECH -- Business Technology Early College High School. Now, the first class of students has graduated, replete with work-experience and Associate Degree qualifications, and the program is viewed as a benchmark for cooperative education.
In the Office of Academic Affairs, the person who leads Queensborough Community College’s four major pre-college and college-pathway programs is an analytical and environmental chemist, skilled in the art and science of problem solving and expert at design improvement – characteristics, accordingly, that are vital to anyone focused on student success.
“My job is to ensure that we are providing the best opportunities and support we can to each individual student so they are able to excel, grow and move ahead,” advises Associate Dean for Academics, Michael Pullin, who directs the College’s developmental coursework, immersive curriculums, outreach projects and preparedness programs that serve hundreds of students annually.
“We pull for and challenge our students to work hard and think hard about their futures,” explains Dr. Pullin, a veteran educator and former national Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Having led outreach, retention projects and similar student service initiatives at New Mexico and Florida colleges and universities, Dr. Pullin says CUNY’s Community College preparation programs are “excellent at lifting people up and getting them ready to go.”
Queensborough delivers BTECH, College Now, CUNY-Start/Math-Start and the CUNY Language Immersive Program (CLIP), each of which serve different audiences and purposes but equally provide support and skills development that enable people of all ages and backgrounds to study at college-level.
It is transformative education, at its best, according to Queensborough Interim President, Dr. Tim Lynch.
“Students in these programs start to think differently about themselves and their goals. They develop a love for learning and make changes in themselves and the world around them. We believe in the students, each of them, and what they’re doing and trying to achieve,” adds Dr. Lynch.
These are values shared by colleagues and associates within Queensborough and other organizations collaborating to deliver BTECH, a five- or six-year non-selective career and technical education Early College Initiative, exclusive to Queensborough.
Located within the Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, BTECH currently caters to 580 students from Grade 9 through to 12 as well as two years after Grade 12, which are dedicated to the completion of either an Associate Degree in Internet and Information Technology or Computer Information Systems at Queensborough Community College.
Students attend high school classes. They also study and receive instruction on the College’s Bayside campus, 2.5 miles to the north. There are no costs associated with the program for the students. Technology-driven companies such as SAP and media giant, Bloomberg, hire students as interns and employers in other sectors that rely heavily upon technology and information systems, such as health and finance, are equally able to place student-workers.
“The beauty with BTECH is its coherent structure. Students are college ready and then career ready,” says BTECH Principal Ms. Patrice Henry, an experienced director who supported a similar program at CUNY’s York College.
Students in BTECH’s Grade 9 take introductory-level courses on the fundamentals of business design and computer coding. College level courses start in Grade 10 and increase in Grade 11 as students begin to address macroeconomics, technical math, calculus, computer information systems and internet technology.
“My ultimate vision is to have our students benefit from a solid education and a robust, supportive community of local businesses and organizations who will provide professional opportunities to each of them,” says Ms. Henry, a graduate herself of the Martin Van Buren High School, which shares resources with BTECH including the facility’s library and auditorium.
“I walk the same floors I walked 20 years ago, but now with my students. I always have time for them. I know how they feel. I remember how hard it was when I came [to the United States] from Jamaica to my junior year here,” she empathizes.
Picture: This group of BTECH students uses their conductivity to power an energy stick, turning themselves into the "Human Circuit".
Many students come to BTECH with a range of academic proficiency, according to Ms. Henry, a SUNY Stonybrook and Columbia Teachers College graduate. The school is helping close the opportunity gap, by raising and maintaining high expectations, providing lots of support and emphasizing socio-emotional learning as well as technology skills. Many BTECH students are the first in their family to go to college.
“They’re teenagers, still growing and learning content. I want them to be able to transfer their knowledge authentically, to think independently and critically, and to develop ‘soft skills’. An employer connection and workplace mentor are vital to their growth and success.”
Queensborough’s Industry Liaison, January Johnson, a former Florida State basketball player and alumnus of Benjamin Cardoza High School (situated across the street from Queensborough), manages the program’s student-employer relationships.
“BTECH/Queensborough students are competing with peers from schools like Townsend Harris and Stuyvesant for paid work experience and internships. Our students are sought-after and well placed. It’s very rewarding [but] we need more employers who see the same potential in them as we do,” says Ms. Johnson, in the office she shares with Academic Program Director, Ms. Ashley Legitime.
Ms. Legitime, with BTECH since its inception, works on the STEM-focused, dual-sector program.
“Nearly half of our 22 graduates, all who have earned Associate Degrees, are young women. And over 90% of the entire 2019 cohort are attending four-year colleges to study, among other things, degrees in Health Sciences, Web and Game Design, Software Engineering, Aeronautics and pre-Med,” Ms. Legitime elaborates.
More than half of the graduates transferred to CUNY institutions in the fall. Others have enrolled with the State University of New York at Buffalo or Stonybrook or have received scholarships to private universities.
“We’re not just preparing students for work. We’re preparing them for life,” Ms. Legitime stresses.
“This is not just about technical content. We’re developing the whole person to be mature, thoughtful and to be increasingly accountable to themselves and others.”
BTECH students are achieving and earning good grades. College readiness rates score well above the New York City average. The program, to date, has a 94% graduation rate according to Department of Education and Queensborough data. By 12th grade, students are acquiring 18 credits or more toward an Associate’s Degree, which requires 60 credits.
But the statistics don’t matter much to Elmhurst’s Chrystal Torrez, one of BTECH’s first 22 graduates who accelerated their study load (completing in five years instead of six) to finalize their qualifications in Spring 2019.
She worked part time at retailer Uniqlo, in Flushing, while attending school full time. Homework filled her breaks and consumed her time on the 7 train. As an intern at SAP’s office at Hudson Yards, she brainstormed with the company’s branding unit.
“I learned that if you’re up for the challenge, things will work out for you. And at SAP, everyone contributed. My ideas were valued,” says Torrez, who will combine her interests in criminal justice and information technology at John Jay College in 2020.
“I would not be going to John Jay had it not been for BTECH and finishing early at Queensborough.”
Stephon Kumar, from Springfield Gardens, commuted an hour and twenty minutes each way to attend BTECH.
“The English classes I took were great and BTECH prepared me well,” he says.
Having transferred to Hunter in the fall, Stephon is pursuing an IT degree and a career in software development, an interest first sparked in middle school. He fixed a broken Compaq laptop his dad had brought home one day.
He interned at SAP for eight weeks in 2018, using the skills he acquired at Queensborough and BTECH to create a small intranet website designed for staff to book guest speakers for company events.
“We worked in teams at SAP, which mirrored my BTECH experience. More important than the technical skills, however, were the interpersonal skills I developed. What’s the point of knowing things if you can communicate, right?” he asks.
Queensborough Associate Dean Michael Pullin says employers, like computer and business management giant SAP, who ‘open doors’ and mentor Queensborough students, value character and attitude as much as skill.
“I am very comfortable putting these young adults into a professional work setting. Their mindset is different from other high school graduates. Practically speaking, they have already graduated college while they have acquired real experience, both of which are very attractive to four-year universities and full-time employers,” Dr. Pullin offers.
SAP’s head of Corporate Social Responsibility for North America, Katie Morgan, says the company has a long-term commitment to building digital skills among teenagers.
“[BTECH] has created quality education opportunities for future tech leaders. The world’s leading companies are working hard to recruit a future-ready workforce and, in many cases, this means broadening their approach to talent recruitment. Programs like BTECH are just one example of how SAP is investing in this concept, identifying and training future leaders to solve the challenges of tomorrow. It’s our hope that more companies get involved in very specific ways, and offer real opportunities to these students.”
The program is successful, according to Morgan and Pullin, because of a shared commitment among collaborating partners.
“It is a model for the future and reinforces our belief that young people, from anywhere, can thrive with the right academic and personal support,” they agree.
“Students focus on the opportunities emerging technologies have to offer,” adds Pullin.
“They are thriving and doing great things. The chemistry and environment, so to speak, are just right.”