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The Southwestern College Sun Is Shining: The Launch Pad for Student Success

college sun

Despite being a passionate wordsmith and no stranger to opinion pieces, I admire student journalists who combine their studies with part-time jobs and volunteer in campus editions. In my days as a student, I could barely raise my head from the books since I always had to write my paper for the next class. Student journalists do that – and prepare the next issue, conduct interviews, analyze politics, and highlight issues that students face – all this actively learning to apply standards of journalist ethics and objective reporting. Their passion is fantastic. That’s why I am very excited about today’s topic. Meet The Sun – newspaper and website of Southwestern College students. Yet first, let us talk about the school itself because it’s nothing short of amazing.

About the Southwestern College

Southwestern College is a public community college in California. It is situated in the scenic town of Chula Vista, which literally translates to English as “Beautiful View,” and there has never been a name more fittingly given (but I digress).

It is a relatively young school founded in 1961 when it first started offering classes to 1,657 students. In its early days, it nestled on the premises of Chula Vista High School. Yet, it grew very fast in response to the demand for public higher education. It currently teaches over 20,000 students across numerous locations in Chula Vista, San Ysidro, National City, Otay Mesa, and off-campus extension sites. Over half a million students have attended Southwestern College since its creation, making it a primary source of public higher education for South San Diego County residents.

With an open admission policy, affordable tuition, robust financial aid tools, and commitment to equity, Southwestern College serves as an example for all the schools that want to propel their students to success and transform the communities they serve.

Southwestern College participates in the Caring Campus program from the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) to make students feel welcome on its campuses, thus improving retention and success. Indeed, students can only come, persist, and thrive where they feel welcome and cared about. When students feel more connected to their college, they are more likely to continue their education, complete academic goals, and achieve success.

The highest degree awarded here is an Associate degree, but Southwestern college successfully serves as a feeder school preparing students for transfer to the University of California, San Diego, San Diego State University, and a plethora of private institutions. Southwestern College also offers certificate programs and professional training, including continuing education for life-long learners. It enriches students’ lives by providing social and co-curricular activities, including student government, intercollegiate athletics, school band, drama society, choral music club, social service, etc. However, the production and publication of the campus newspaper and other campus materials stand out on this list.

About the Campus Newspaper ‘The Sun’

The Sun is a Southwestern College newspaper and website that has been a launch pad for many successful careers in journalism. Students who made their first steps into the profession in this publication continue their work in San Diego news organizations and national outlets. As Dr. Max Branscomb, the nationally renowned journalism professor at Southwestern College and advisor to The Sun, proudly said in the interview with the newspaper, “Our college can be an incubator of dreams and a gateway to greatness.”

The Associated Collegiate Press named The Sun among America’s Top 100 college publications of the last century in 2021, along with student publications of such high-profile schools as Northwestern University, University of Missouri, University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Southern California.

The Associated Collegiate Press is the oldest national membership organization for college student media in the US and the home of the prestigious Pacemaker – an Oscar (or should I say Pulitzer prize?) of college media. The Sun has regularly won Pacemaker awards since its inaugural win in 2003. Individual Southwestern College students have also won Pacemaker awards for writing, editing, photography, design, etc.

In 2019, the Associated Collegiate Press honored The Sun by inducting the student newspaper into the ACP Hall of Fame – the distinction only awarded to student-run publications winning 10 national Pacemaker Awards. Dr. Max Branscomb compared this accolade to standing on top of a mountain. He highlighted that the award results from the brilliant work that Southwestern College students do on par with the elite national journalists. I should mention here that the publication reports not only on college issues but also on community issues as well.

Katy Stegall, then editor-in-chief of The Sun and currently San-Diego-based journalist focused on criminal justice accountability reporting, noted the genuine pride students feel about the publication “they pour everything into” and the monumental legacy they keep honoring.

More recently, in 2022, The Society of Professional Journalists has bestowed upon The Sun two of its most prestigious awards: the Corbin Gwaltney Award and the National Collegiate Newspaper of the Year.

An annual award honoring the nation’s best student newspapers has been recently named after the late Corbin Gwaltney, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy Founder.

Besides these two big wins, the entire host of other awards by the Society of Professional Journalists has been taken by The Sun, El Sol Magazine (the sister campus publication), and individual Southwestern College students for their professionalism and in-depth reporting.

This speaks volumes about Southwestern College’s education level and the passion for fostering talent produced by the South County community.

About Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Speaking of fostering talent, we cannot leave unnoticed the commitment to equitable education Southwestern College has been showing since its inception. This focus on diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and intellectual and social advancement transforms the lives of students and communities.

College diversity programs encourage pluralism of opinions and beliefs, foster cultural awareness, and strive for student success, regardless of gender identity and expression, race, ethnicity, family status, income, location, background, sexual orientation, political views, religious affiliation, neurodiversity, or ability status.

Groups promoting diversity on campus include Black Alliance, Chicano Latino Coalition, Asian Pacific Islander group, and LGBTQIA+.

Located south of San Diego and extending to the U.S.-Mexico border, the Southwestern Community College District is home to diverse communities. Dr. Mark Sanchez, Superintendent/President of Southwestern College, has been working on strategies to reflect this diversity in the student body, faculty, and other college employees. Among the action he and his team have been taking are:

  • Increased outreach to various groups of the student population
  • Overhauled employee recruitment efforts coordinated with the equity and engagement director
  • Advertisements in non-traditional publications
  • Newly hired consultants that seek out diverse faculty candidates
  • Aggregate demographic reporting for assessing applicant pool diversity
  • Revamped candidate screening criteria, interview questions, and rating forms that eliminate bias and put forward the candidate’s strengths
  • Regular Implicit Bias and Equal Employment Opportunity training for all members of the hiring committee

This has resulted in over 70% ethnically diverse employees, which is quite impressive and precisely reflects ethnicity distribution among the student body. In turn, the student body is 48% Hispanic/Latino, meaning Southwestern College has long since achieved Hispanic Serving Institution status (student enrollment must be at least 25 percent Chicano/Latino). Of course, representative student body composition is not the only metric required for that. Still, SWC maintains excellence in other areas as well: faculty composition, institutional mission, student success, campus law enforcement, etc.

Cultural student offerings, such as African-American/Black Studies classes, Mexican-American Studies, and American Sign Language courses, are also aimed at fostering diversity and inclusion competence.

The most fundamental step, however, is a cultural shift through training and ongoing conversations about race and equity. From what can be seen, there is no doubt that Southwestern College continues in this direction with intent and purpose.

Elissa Smart Elissa Smart
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