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MC’s Popup Centers Meet Students Where They Are

Montgomery College has served almost 4,000 county residents at its community engagement centers since they opened in 2012. That is the number of people who have either completed a class, attended a workshop, or met with an advisor. The class completion rate at the centers is off the charts. Because of the tremendous success of standard community engagement centers, MC has expanded its reach to a second type of center: the “popup.”

David Sears (center-right) and Karla Silvestre (center, in a fuchsia suit) at the Ethiopian Community Center

“We are serving people who would have never had an opportunity to learn about anything from higher education if we hadn’t gone and brought the courses to them,” said David Sears, senior vice president for advancement and community engagement. “We want to offer noncredit courses to get people certifications to be able to go out into the workforce.”

Three different versions of MC community engagement centers are operational, according to David Sears. The “standard” centers, where there is a set schedule and MC staff on hand, are located at East County Regional Services and the Gaithersburg Library.

Sears strategically selected the first location based on his research of poverty levels and the lowest post-secondary levels of attainment in the county. Karla Silvestre, director of community engagement, identified the Gaithersburg Library. Both buildings are bustling hubs where the College works in concert with agencies (like MobilMed, Family Services, the Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center, the East County Regional Center, and the Gaithersburg library) so it can reach the greatest number of community members in need.

We are serving people who would have never had an opportunity to learn about anything from higher education if we hadn’t gone and brought the courses to them

Silvestre formed a team of outreach workers, a diverse group of people who speak several languages and travel to different sites each week, spreading awareness about the classes MC offers to the community. “For this type of work, it is critical to have staff that reflect the community we serve,” Silvestre said. “There is an almost instant trust formed when people can connect and relate with our staff.”

East County Regional Services

One example of a popup is the Ethiopian Community Center in Silver Spring. According to Sears, the Ethiopian population is a burgeoning population at MC, with Amharic being the second-largest spoken language on campus.

“We are [at the Ethiopian Community Center] consistently, offering workshops and advising there in Silver Spring,” said Sears.

The third, and perhaps most unique, type of community engagement center MC offers operates at Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation. MC offers GED prep and testing, Adult Basic Education (ABE) for those at or below a sixth-grade level, Pre-GED courses for those who don’t need ABE, but aren’t quite ready for GED prep; English as a Second Language courses; Digital Literacy training that teaches basic computer skills; and two certificate programs, in hair care and food service. Since MC’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education division took over the Adult Education Program there, the annual number of Montgomery County inmates who earn a GED has more than doubled.

“When they get released, they have up to a $1,500 scholarship to come to MC to take credit or noncredit classes, and we set them up with a counselor and support services,” noted Sears.

The engagement center concept began when Sears, helped lead an initiative to create the Office of Community Engagement at the College. He did an enormous amount of research and found that traditional models of community engagement centers seemed to be educational locations dedicated solely to offering classes.

“We’ve taken that notion and expanded it to providing support services to meet the students where they are,” said Sears. “With [Montgomery College President] Dr. Pollard’s vision, we’ve taken the College out into the community.”

The scholarships and noncredit courses offered at the community engagement centers are made possible by the Montgomery College Foundation and the funds raised by the MC2020 Campaign.

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