All posts by Terry Leyba Ruiz

At the Heart of Who I Am

I have often said, “At the heart of who I am, I am a teacher.” While I am privileged and humbled to serve as the 8th president of GCC, I recognize it is my many years of teaching mathematics that have given me the foundation to do the work of the presidency. It is my belief in students and our community and our ability to make a difference in their life everyday that drives me to commit to this noble work.

When I think back over the 23 years I taught mathematics, there are a myriad of memories that come to mind. As a young 23 year old, it was a bit overwhelming knowing that I was responsible for teaching 7th grade mathematics at the same school I had graduated from 10 years earlier. The connections I was able to make with students remind me how our words and actions matter even when we don’t realize it. Thank goodness for Facebook and for former students being able to find me. I recently had lunch with a student from that first class. This young man was brilliant then and brilliant today, he talked way too much then and often landed himself in trouble, and he is talkative today and uses those skills in his career as a leader with FedEx. It was humbling to connect with a student from 32 years ago!

I also have great memories of my time teaching high school mathematics and serving as a club advisor for the Ski Club. Taking groups of students from South Phoenix, many of whom had never seen the snow, on ski trips to Colorado and Utah, created many great memories that we still laugh about today. I’ll never forget the trip to Utah, for many students this was their first plane trip. The students were excited and as we were getting ready to taxi down the runway, one of our students, John, found the barf bag in the seat pocket in front of him. Being curious about this flat paper bag, he stuck his hand inside…Just as the plane was starting to move, he yelled out to the flight attendant, “Hey Lady, Hey Lady!” and held up his hand covered in barf! He was told he would have to sit tight until we reached cruising altitude.

The 16 years I spent teaching at South Mountain Community College brought so many more opportunities with students. As the advisor for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, I traveled with students around the country to attend national conferences. I taught a range of ages, 18 – 83, and each and every one of these students taught me something about how to teach and how to stay flexible as their lives were complicated, yet they were committed to their education and just wanted someone to be committed back to them. My years at SMCC taught me to challenge myself with new techniques, new technology, and planted the seed for being able to make a difference in our community, because at the heart of who I am, I am a teacher.


Change is coming…

District Transformation Plan…Guided Pathways…Industry Partnerships…Enterprise Performance…a bunch of words, what do they all mean? How is it going to change what I do everyday? Why should I care?

These are all things you may be feeling. I am excited about all of the changes but I am especially excited about Guided Pathways and the change it could mean for our students. Guided Pathways is a national movement embraced by community colleges and universities alike. Here’s the thing…it’s not even a new concept but one, when done right, will have tremendous impact on how students reach their goal.

I want you to think about what drove you to commit your professional life at a community college. Was it a love of your discipline? Was it because you love teaching as opposed to research? Was it because you loved your college-experience so much you didn’t want to leave? Was it because you simply want to make a difference for others? Whatever the case, I want you to ask yourself if you’re ready to take a journey and be part of the movement…In the great words of Alexander Hamilton (aka Lin-Manuel Miranda in “My Shot”) “This is not a moment, it’s the movement.”

Joining the movement for Guided Pathways isn’t about something we’re “doing”, it’s about something we’re “becoming” and will require a renewed commitment to what brought us to the community college in the first place.

Guided Pathways will result in an actual map that students will follow. These maps will be in designated “clusters” so students can easily move from one degree to another in the same cluster with little loss of credit…By the way, did you know that on average, community college students graduate with over 90 credit hours? And if students want to change their cluster all together, for example from Engineering to Business, then this can happen too. Remember, it’s a pathway not a prison.

So, what does all this mean to you? If you’re a faculty member, it may mean asking some questions about what can you do to help students through the “gateway” courses. These are courses with high enrollment and low success rates. It may mean you are challenged to think of your discipline is a way that is outside your comfort zone. If you are an Academic Advisor, it may mean continuous training with a lowered and designed caseload of students to guide.  But you are not alone and we have amazing colleagues who can help us grow in our chosen profession.

But…why exactly are we on this committed movement of Guided Pathways? Ultimately, it’s to achieve student success, equity, and economic upward mobility for the students we serve. So, we have to ask ourselves…are we really student-ready? Are we willing to adapt to the changes that are surely coming? Are we willing to take on this movement? Remember, “this is not a moment, it’s the movement.” I say, “Let’s go!”



The Magic in the Classroom

Have you ever experienced that magical moment in the classroom when everything seemed to be just perfect? The class session when you might not have even planned for the activities but the students took you down a path where one thing led to the next and before you knew it…there was magic?

I’ve been very fortunate over my 23-year history teaching mathematics and have experienced several of those moments. It was those moments of magic when I knew the students were engaged, learning from each other, and I was the proud teacher on the side. The moments when the students were working together in groups and found they didn’t agree with the answers from another group. This is what I always referred to as a “controversy”, followed by telling students that “Controversy is good for the soul and this is the time to listen and learn from each other”.

It happened quite by accident. I was teaching College Algebra (MAT151) and I had a wide range of learning levels in this class. Actually, this was a regular occurrence in my College Algebra classes. Some students would enroll in this class after having taken the mathematics placement test, which usually meant they had a very high level of mathematical knowledge and ability, while other students enrolled because they had earned a C or better in the previous class, Intermediate Algebra (MAT121).   This latter group usually had a mixture of mathematical knowledge and ability. This is the group that Michael came from.

Michael was a very large and imposing young man, probably in his early 20s, and an admitted felon. Michael was a nice young man with a quick smile, big laugh, and a limited understanding of algebraic rules. He tried hard, came to class everyday (probably because his probation officer made him), participated in all of the group activities, but wasn’t passing the class.

We came to the part of the class where we were solving radical equations…sorry to all the non-math folks for the technical part of this story, but it is very important. All semester, I had been working with the students and helping them to understand that there was more than one way to solve an algebraic equation…there was the traditional algebraic method, but there was also a numerical method and a graphical method. We regularly used a graphing calculator, TI-84, for just about everything in the class but particularly to see the numerical and graphical answers.

So, we were knee deep into learning about radical equations and they were familiar with the possibility of having an Extraneous Solution…that pesky problem where you might be able to algebraically solve the equation but the solution doesn’t check out when you substitute the answer back into the equation…blah, blah, blah.

My students were working in groups and five of the six groups all came up with the same answer… all except Michael’s group. This is where the magic happened. In Michael’s loud booming voice, he said, “You all are wrong, there’s No Solution!” To which I said, “Michael, can you come to the front and show everyone what you mean?” We regularly used the Pad Camera for the class so Michael makes his way to the front and using the graphing calculator, shows the class that the two sides of the equation, each representing a function, did not intersect. The class erupted in cheers and Michael had his moment of validation in the sun.

I don’t know what happened to Michael after the semester, I can only hope and pray that he stayed on the straight and narrow path and is living a happy life. I know that he made a huge difference in my life and serves as a reminder of the potential that lives within all of our students.


SciTech Night of Student Success

Friday night was a night filled with stars, meteorites, comets…chocolate, ramps, burning gumming bears, fossilized arthropods, and so much more. Friday night was the third annual SciTech Festival Event held at GCC North. I had the distinct pleasure of officially starting the event by welcoming everyone…of course, I was so excited I forgot to introduce myself, but I was not the star of the show…our students and faculty are the real stars.

We are so fortunate to have such amazingly dedicated faculty, committed to their discipline and committed to our students. The level of expertise displayed by our students is a direct result of the care and commitment, and their hard work, that our faculty have shown to these students.

My two daughters, ages 10 and 12, gave up their gymnastics class so they could be part of this event, they loved it so much from last year! We all learned so much and I finally have a point of reference regarding light years. As we were looking at a double cluster of stars through one of our high-powered telescopes, Caushlin, the young student who wants to be an Astrophysicists, explained that it was 7500 light years away….”Ok, what exactly does that mean?”, I asked her. “We are looking in the past…7500 years in the past.”, she patiently explains….What? Then she explains that it takes 7500 years for light from those stars to reach our eyes so we are actually looking at the double cluster of stars as they were 7500 years ago…are they even still there? Next things I know, there are two other brainiacs with us, explaining to the uninformed Vice President, the obvious facts about Astronomy. A special thanks to Curtis and Angel for your patience and for not laughing in my face.

Watching our faculty in action takes my breath away. Learning the chemistry of how chocolate is made, as explained by Dr. Christina Clark, was interesting and so well explained that even a non-chemist like myself could understand it…and the chocolate was delicious. Watching the theatrics of Dr. Joe Springer as he blew up balloons and showed florescent chemicals made it clear why our students enjoy his classes. Listening to the excitement in Dr. Sally Watt’s voice as she explained the stars to community members was inspiring.

I have always thought that being an excellent teacher was part art and part science; the art of performing and engaging your audience to learn the science of our disciplines. Watching our faculty and students in action on Friday night, proved to me, that this belief still rings true.


Student Success and Financial Aid – Week #2

Count yourself lucky if you didn’t have to rely on Federal Financial Aid for your college education.  At GCC, approximately 60% of our students must battle this maze every year.  In my time as the Vice President of Student Affairs, I have heard many stories from students, learned to understand the secret language of federal financial aid, and offer suggestions on ways to improve our service to students.  For example, take the U.S. born student whose parents were undocumented immigrants from Mexico.  When our student was 13, the parents were deported back to Mexico, leaving our student to fend for himself. Fortunately, he had an older sister who could help but nothing can replace the care and guidance of parents.  I learned there is help for exactly this situation, it’s called a Dependency Override, and while complicated, it allowed the student access to federal financial aid.

Every semester, a process called Enrollment Cancellation begins 35 days before the start of the semester.  This is a District-wide process that drops students from their classes for non-payment.  It has a complicated long story, but suffice it to say, there is a lot of angst surrounding this process.

Last summer, GCC was preparing to drop approximately 7000 students for non-payment.  Luckily, we were able to push robocalls to these students, encouraging them to sign up for a payment plan.  We also learned that approximately 3500 students had a federal financial aid application on file but had not completed the steps for awarding.  We saw this as a call to action, an opportunity to reach out to these students and to try to push them through the maze of financial aid.  We coined the phrase “Financial Aid Friday” and on a hot Friday in July, we were able to reach over 300 students.  GCC gained a lot of attention from District Office that day and a representative was sent over to witness and participate in our big event.  As a result of our focus on student success and financial aid, the messaging that students received was streamlined and made easier to understand.

So, what has GCC done now that we understand the impact of the federal financial process on our students and their success?  We have streamlined the GCC Financial Aid department and have hired four part-time staff to focus solely and completely on getting students through the maze we call federal financial aid. We are also planning additional Financial Aid Fridays throughout the summer.  The biggest take away for me has been in seeing the positive impact of one-on-one attention to our students.  It is time consuming and costly but ultimately, worth the price if we can help one more student through the maze.


Student Success Week 1

Well, the semester is off to a running start, just like every semester. Life in the Enrollment Center is back to a slow and steady stream of students, unlike the crazy rush that happens just before and after the start of any semester. A huge thank you to our colleagues and friends in the Enrollment Center, I often believe they are the unsung heroes on our campus. They work tirelessly to get our students processed and enrolled in classes. As a long-time member of the faculty, I never truly appreciated the amount of time, effort, and dedication of my colleagues in Student Affairs to get the student into my class. I was always just so happy to have a classroom full of students eager to learn mathematics…well, maybe not eager, but certainly willing to try for the semester. Of course, my greatest sense of accomplishment was always the student who would say at the end of the semester “You know, math isn’t so bad after all.” Mission Accomplished! I can retire with a sense of accomplishment. Now as a Vice President of Student Affairs, I see my mission in a whole new way. My goal is to encourage, inspire, and push my team in Student Affairs to do more, push harder, to think beyond the boundaries to find ways to serve our students to the best of our ability. Customer service is job #1 and how we serve our students is a reflection of GCC…so the goal is to help as many students as possible through the long lines, through the maze we call financial aid, and on a path that leads to a successful completion of their
goal. Truly, it takes a village to get our students from the Welcome Desk to the Classroom and across the stage at Commencement. Thank you for the amazing work you do, both in the classroom and out of the classroom, to push and inspire our students.


Coming Soon…New Academic Advising Model

Exciting developments continue in Student Affairs…this time in Academic Advising.  If you have ever visited the Enrollment Center during peak registration times, you’ll agree that the place is jumping with activity…sometimes too much activity.  With a constant eye on improving processes we knew we had to find a better way to serve students.  Gaucho 101 serves as First Semester Advisors with the goal to serve new-to-college, degree-seeking students, this allows only continuing students to be served by Academic Advisors in the Enrollment Center.  At the same time, thanks to SPA, we have data that shows students will see multiple Academic Advisors in a very short time, sometimes as many as six advisors!  All of this adding to the number of students waiting in the Enrollment Center.

Other than adding to the volume of students in the Enrollment Center, seeing multiple advisors means that students have to introduce themselves multiple times, explain their goals multiple times, and possibly, receive multiple answers to their questions…all of this causing frustration for everyone.

So…the Academic Advisors have taken on this challenge and will be revamping their advisement model to include assigned-advisors for students!  I am very excited about their process and the enthusiasm with which they have accepted the challenge.  Special thanks to Melissa Turnbull, Interim Advisement Coordinator, for leading this challenge and guiding the Academic Advisors through program development.  We will all be excited about the final outcome.

Remember…Student Affairs is focused on helping students develop relationships and connections with staff, helping to ease the path through their college experience, leading to a walk across the stage at commencement.


SSI Team and Gaucho 101

SSI Team and Gaucho 101

When the District Office mandated the Student Success Initiatives for all new-to-college, transfer or degree seeking students, each college was given financial support and charged with implementing four requirements for the SSI cohorts of students:

  1. Placement Testing – students must enroll in the English, reading and math courses identified.
  2. Academic Advising
  3. New Student Orientation
  4. Enrollment into a college success course for all students who test into at least one developmental (below 100) course.

At GCC we created the SSI Steering Team and SSI Implementation Team, each made up of faculty and staff focused on creating something special. The team knew that full-time staff would be needed to accomplish the SSI requirements, so using the funds provided by the District Office, the SSI Team was created:

Angie Wisniewski (Center, Coordinator), Mari Licking (Right, Student Services Specialist) and Danny Chavez (Left, Student Services Specialist).



The SSI Team serves as First-Semester Advisors for the SSI Cohort, and along the way, develop strong relationships with students. Working very closely with our SPA Team (Strategy, Planning and Accountability), the group was able to track how well we were doing with meeting the SSI mandates.

Like any good program with a focus on improving results and impact, the SSI Implementation and SSI Team redeveloped their strategies and approach to the program to create Gaucho 101, lead by our SSI Team.

Gaucho 101 is an interactive, self-paced, online advisement workshop.  Students are provided with information to guide them through the enrollment process, empowering students to self-enroll with staff on hand to answer all of their questions and ensure that appropriate courses are selected…it’s like Group Advising on steroids.

Gaucho 101 was implemented Spring 2014 and served approximately 1800 students in the Fall 2014 SSI Cohort, approximately 50% of the cohort.  The SSI Team was able to enroll 96% of their students in the New Student Orientation and 76% into the College Success Course, CPD 150.

Gaucho 101 was temporarily located in a testing room in the Testing & Disability Services (TDS) building.  This made for a smooth transition as students completed their placement test they were immediately handed over to Gaucho 101.

But again, like any good program with a focus on improving results and impact, the SSI Implementation Team was not satisfied with seeing only 50% of the SSI cohort…the goal is at least 90% to experience Gaucho 101!

To accomplish this huge goal, the team worked very closely with our Admissions and Records team to smooth the admissions process, with Testing Services for a smooth hand-off…and most importantly…the SSI Team will be permanently located in the Testing & Disability Services building by the end of May 2015.

With so much emphasis on student success, retention and completion, we cannot forget that student success begins with relationships…connections to faculty and staff, at all levels, so students know that their success is our success.  Gaucho 101 helps to create those relationships with students. I’m confident that Gaucho 101 will continue to evolve and continue to make a positive impact on our students.


Student Affairs has HEART

Student Affairs has HEART.

We Help to Empower people to Achieve and Reach their goals to Transform their life.

This is the new mission statement for GCC Student Affairs.  Last fall as the Student Affairs managers were developing our Tier II Strategic Plan, we thought a good place to start was with our Mission and Vision statements.  We wanted to stay true to our culture and philosophy and not get lost in too much rhetoric…we wanted to be able to live our mission.  We brainstormed who we are and what we care about…you’ll notice that the mission statement does not mention “students” exclusively…our goal is to impact students and our staff…which is why we chose the word “people” for our mission statement.

Special thanks to our Marketing Team and graphic designers for their patience and creativity as they provided us with nine different designs to represent our mission statement.



Student Affairs…By Any Other Name

What is Student Affairs?  What does it mean?  Why should I worry about it?

At GCC, we use the phrase “Student Affairs” but other colleges call it Student Services or Student Development.  By another other name, “Student Affairs” is the group of dedicated people focused on student success through their academic courses and also in developing the whole person.

Many years ago when I started my career as a member of the Faculty, teaching Mathematics at South Mountain Community College, I never even entered the Enrollment Center, other than to drop off my grades (this was way before SIS and electronic grading, we actually had paper grade sheets).

I never considered how my students made their way to my class, I was just so happy to have a full class and to teach a subject that I really enjoyed.  But most of all, I was so happy to have a captive audience that I could mentor, encourage, inspire; to help them believe in their ability because I truly believe that people are more mathematical than they believe and can do more than they believe possible.

Later, I realized, and truly appreciated, the army of individuals dedicated to serving our students  Staff who are as passionate about helping students reach their goals as the faculty.  Staff who go above and beyond to reach the students.

I am honored to serve as the Vice President of Student Affairs at GCC.  My amazing and dedicated team is split into two groups:  Enrollment Services and Student Life.  I’m going to use the next six weeks to share stories of student success and to help strengthen the bridge between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.  As we all know, it takes a village…and we all have a part to play in student success, but most of all, as we move forward to the next 50 years of GCC, our programs will be strengthened as we continue to work together.