Sept. 29, 2022

Episode 77: Breaking Glass Ceilings As a Black Woman Higher Ed Leader - Contributed by Advance 360 Education

Episode 77: Breaking Glass Ceilings As a Black Woman Higher Ed Leader - Contributed by Advance 360 Education

Contributed by Advance 360 Education

Guest: Dr. Claudia Schrader, President of Kingsborough Community College, CUNY

Guest Bio: The first African-American President at Kingsborough Community College (KCC) of The City University of New York (CUNY), Dr. Claudia Schrader has built an authentic “student first” culture at KCC. From her KCC Welcome Wagon initiative, in which she traveled door-to-door and borough-to-borough to welcome KCC students to her Open Doors Learning Community initiative aimed at bringing first-year students together and promoting student success collaboration among faculty, Dr. Schrader is led by her passion for helping students succeed and tearing down historical barriers to success for minorities pursuing higher education.

Born and raised in St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands, Dr. Schrader earned an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University before going on to earn both a Master of Arts, Master of Education and Doctorate of Education from Columbia University, Teachers College. Additionally, she obtained a certificate from the Institute for Educational Management at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.

Before taking the reins at KCC in 2018, Dr. Schrader worked across higher education in a variety of unique roles, including that of Provost & Senior Vice President at Bronx Community College (CUNY), Associate Provost at William Patterson University of New Jersey and Associate Provost at Medgar Evers College (CUNY). Additionally, she has taught as an adjunct professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, Bank Street College and the College of New Rochelle. Beyond her role at KCC, Dr. Schrader has been involved with professional organizations, including the Commission on Higher Education, the American Association of Community College’s (AACC) National Council for Black American Affairs and the AACC Commission on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity.

Episode Summary:

In this episode, EdUp welcomed Dr. Claudia Schrader, President of Kingsborough Community College. Among a host of topics discussed in the episode, Dr. Schrader talks about the student-first culture at KCC, the institution’s commitment to advancing the success of a diverse student population, the unique strategies it has adopted to create a collaborative and integrative learning environment and the institution’s commitment to ensuring students graduate with the skills they need to better their own lives and improve society-at-large.

Breaking Down Walls & Helping Students Succeed

In the fall of 2018, Dr. Schrader became the first African American President in Kingsborough Community College’s 56-year history. Ever since then, she has been working passionately and purposely to create the type of collaborative campus culture that helps a diverse student body of more than 14,000 break their own barriers to success. While committed to helping all KCC students achieve their educational goals, Dr. Schrader believes her journey to academic and professional success puts her in a unique position to inspire young black women.

She notes, “I know occupying the seat of President means so much to so many people. For them to be able to see someone that looks like them, that probably has their same background. And not just for young black girls, for anyone, from a diverse population. To know that they can do it too is really important.”

However, she believes there is more that can be done to help young black women, in higher education and in general, to succeed at the highest levels. And despite the success experienced at KCC, she believes there’s always an opportunity to grow. While diversity access to higher education is a crucial part of the equation, it’s simply the starting point. It’s about the initiatives and culture an institution has in place once a student begins classes. How are students being mentored? What’s being done to promote the importance of networking? Are faculty and mentors openly sharing their own professional experiences to help students grow?

Dr. Schrader believes these are the types of questions that need to be asked and evaluated by institutions on a regular basis, as doing so can lead to even greater and more effective levels of student support.

She understands that for many KCC students, community college is only the first step in a longer process. In many cases, students are racing against the clock to graduate and transfer to a four-year school. Other students pursue associate’s degrees as a means to increased income or professional opportunities at jobs they hold while also attending community college.

To help meet the needs of such a diverse student body, Dr. Schrader has focused heavily on creating a collaborative student support system at KCC. She notes, “It’s really important for our students to stay focused, goal-oriented and on track to graduate.” Through initiatives such as KCC Open Doors Learning Communities which groups incoming freshmen into smaller class, more personal cohorts and CUNY Flex which provides direct support services to adult learners, KCC has become a national model for many institutions. Additionally, KCC’s model of integrated learning helps students understand how and why one thing they learn connects to others.

Dr. Schrader explains, “It's integrated learning among a variety of courses. And assignments are integrative, as well. Students are able to make connections between all of their assignments. It's a model that's been nationally recognized. We have also seen from the data on learning communities that students participating in learning communities are retained at higher rates.” As a result of its efforts, KCC boasts the second-highest graduation and retention rate among CUNY institutions.

With all the energy, focus and time committed to helping her students succeed, Dr. Schrader goes above and beyond the call of duty. Amid the height of the pandemic when students took all remote courses, she felt inspired to connect with them even though they weren’t physically on campus.

In addition to reaching out to students via email simply to let them know that KCC was there for them, Dr. Schrader visited the homes of a number of KCC freshmen simply to connect and give them a swag bag.

As she tells students, “This is the Kingsborough way. We welcome you. I'm here for you and you have resources. We are real people.” Under Dr. With Schrader's leadership, KCC students are experiencing real results from real faculty and staff committed to helping them succeed in college and life.”

Advance 360 Education Perspective

We agree with Dr. Schrader when she says it is important to share your experiences and knowledge. College is an ideal place for students to learn the curriculum they need to pursue the appropriate career, but maybe more importantly it is a place to learn more about navigating through the world. The networking, and even casual conversations, are so beneficial as students are figuring out what profession they want to pursue and understand what kind of interests or causes to get involved. As the population of this country becomes more and more diverse, it is imperative that students see people who look like them in positions they would consider when deciding what to study.

It is unfortunate it has taken 52 years to have an African American female president at KCC, but we believe her leadership is a great value to the KCC students and others in her network. She seems to take a very distinctive approach to leading the college, walking the campus, and interacting with the students on a personal level. Not all students get this type to experience on their campus. This leadership style creates more networking opportunities for the students and having these types of connections leads to them staying in their program and ultimately graduating.

The learning communities and other programs KCC has set up also adds to the success of their students matriculating. It is admirable that Dr. Schrader takes on a few roles as President of KCC. She acts as representation and mentor to their diverse student population as well as focuses on making sure the learning model set at the school is helpful in students completing their programs. Many students can feel quite lost as they start college, but at KCC they are focused on smaller classrooms which makes it easier for students to get to know their community. A combination of diverse leadership and this specific learning model likely alleviates additional stress the students may experience as they’re adjusting to adulthood or college life.

Listen to KCC President Claudia Schrader’s Entire Interview:

Episode 77: Breaking Glass Ceilings As a Black Woman Higher Ed Leader

To learn more about the EdUp Experience, please visit edupexperience.com. To stay up-to-date on the latest podcasts, go to edupexperience.com and subscribe via your favorite podcast player.

Feel free to share this article and associated podcast episode with your colleagues in the higher education community.