Starfishing for answers

By Kharii McMillan

Students at the Community College of Philadelphia use the Starfish program to communicate with student support staff on campus and discreetly communicate with faculty members about student issues that need to be fixed, as well as counseling and lab referrals. Photo courtesy of Community College of Philadelphia website

Any time a student receives misinformation, it can cause unwarranted stress that can drastically harm a student’s ability to succeed. For adjunct communication studies professor Tyler Daniels, ensuring students’ success means providing them with clear, precise information straight from the source.

“Accurate communication from teacher to student is very important to me,” Daniels said. “I had no idea that Starfish would be providing students with e-mails that bear my signature, that I did not actually write.”

The Starfish Retention Solutions program is an early alert software that allows any faculty member to signal college officials about the status of a student, whether it be to express concern or communicate praise for academic progress. The intent of the program is to be a conversation starter, according to David Pringle, the DCCC director of the Student Completion Program.

Improving retention at community colleges is the main initiative of the Starfish program, as recent research by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University shows that a quarter of students who enroll in the fall semester do not return in spring; and of those who do enroll in spring, one-fifth do not return for the subsequent fall semester.

Instructors are able to raise flags if they notice a student is struggling in class, or if it seems like one’s performance is being affected by outside influences. Instructors are also able to give kudos, or messages of appreciation, if they notice the student is performing well.

This program has already been implemented at several colleges in Pennsylvania, including the Community College of Philadelphia and Montgomery County Community College. Pringle explained that DCCC administrators looked at the application of the program at these schools as a template for the system here. The program was first implemented over the summer as a soft launch, with the idea that the faculty can take time to learn the basics of the system. “We just wanted everyone to get their feet wet,” Pringle said.

The second launch of the program during the fall semester has led to varying opinions on the success of the system. Although Pringle said many faculty members responded positively to the pilot program, there were a few pressing concerns.

“Some faculty were concerned with the messaging that came attached to the flags that were raised,” Pringle said. These automated messages could be interpreted to be written by the professor of the particular class, which led to many faculty members objecting to the program.

Pringle said that the 10 to 12-person team in charge of implementing the program is looking at changing the messaging system to satisfy concerns that faculty have about the wording.

According to Lametha Northern, vice Provost for Student and Instructional Support Services, the two main concerns of polishing the Starfish program are communication between students and faculty, as well as training staff to properly use the system.

“Communication is a twoway process,” Northern said. “We need everyone to be together on this.”

Another criticism from an online review by Stacey S. worries that the program is not geared as much towards health sciences, a criticism applicable to DCCC students in particular who take online classes focused towards that major.

A DCCC student wishing to be known only as “Paul T.” had praise for the layout of the program. “I think the design is simple and easy on the eyes,” he said. “It is definitely more eyecatching than the WebStudy system.”

Students can also choose to receive text messages on their phones, a feature that could help when receiving information about credit benchmarks, class registration, and other information that may come through e-mail but is missed by students who do not check Delagate often.

Pringle said he does not want Starfish to be an overlap of pre-existing programs already in the Delagate system; instead, he wants it to match features of already existing programs.

“It will be more useful in the long term to have Starfish replace already existing programs, consolidating it into one system,” Pringle said.

Another feature that may be implemented in Starfish for DCCC in the future is the “Raise Your Hand” program, whereby students can go directly onto the Starfish web page and be connected with a faculty member who is an expert on a specific topic they have questions on.

Pringle said that many students become frustrated with the process of trying to find someone to speak to about transfers, starting clubs, and other aspects of college life. The Raise Your Hand program would essentially eliminate the middle man and prevent students from being bounced around without finding an answer to their problem, he added.

Although Starfish has not yet been fully implemented, Pringle said he wants students and faculty alike to know that patience will pay off.

“If it takes us two to three years to build it, it will be more likely to last 10 to 15 years,” Pringle said.

Pringle hopes to hold a focus group in mid-November to show students the program and receive feedback on how to improve it. He stressed that input from students is of the highest importance, because this program will benefit them the best if they can participate in how it is implemented.

“We have an idea of what catches students’ attention, but that is not always the case,” Pringle said. “So I would like to hear what students have to say, and how we can best get this program to work for them.”

As for Daniels, he believes the program has potential, but as with any program, improvements are still needed.

“It’s a good idea,” Daniels said. “I think it just needs to be tweaked a little. If we just give the students the raw data, they themselves can make the correlation.”

Contact Kharii McMillan at

DCCC’s cafeteria undergoes face-lift

By Hania Jones

Dccc's cafeteria metamorphosis photo 3.jpg
Marple Campus’ newly revitalized soup and salad bar is one of many improvements resulting from the remodeling of the cafeteria. Photo by of Hania Jones

The cafeteria at the Marple Campus has undergone a transformation. According to Sean Gow, general manager of Canteen, a dining service that provides the food at DCCC, “Everything is pretty much the same, but a higher quality and perception.” Gow is referring to the new features of the cafeteria, such as the stone pizza oven and the electronic soft beverage machine.

The cafeteria still features the classic salad bar and the breakfast menu. The menu is more diversified, offering cultural entrees.

“We have Italian, Indian, Oriental and different selections,” Gow said. “So we have more options that are not just burgers and chicken and pizza.”

According to Gow, The cultural entrees has gotten positive feedback from students. “We have a lot of customers who are new to ethnic food.” Gow said.

The enriched menu also accommodates students and faculty who eat gluten-free meals, vegetarian options, and also selective eaters, Gow explained.

“We have a lot of variations of different foods and that also includes vegans and any kind of vegetarian items,” Gow said, adding that he can accommodate people with allergies or those requesting specialty items.

“Even if we can’t give it that day, we always take suggestions.”Gow said. “And it’s not just for vegetarians, it’s for people who want chicken noodle soup everyday because usually, we do three soups, but they want chicken noodle everyday.”

Canteen vending has provided meals for DCCC for seven years. According to their website, Canteen is “committed to providing our clients and customers with wholesome product options and information to help the make informed food and beverage choices and lead a healthier lifestyle on the go.”

This message is part of Canteen’s better-for-you options, which focuses on healthier choices in regards to lunches, drinks, and snacks, according to their website.

“We’re actually talking in terms of transitioning ourselves to go for a more better-foryou solution to change the marketplace and really take control of what’s being served to be able to offer the sweet potato fries, the vegetarian friendly, less beef more turkey, more lean protein,” said Margaret Boyle, the field marketing specialist at DCCC. “So we’re really excited about that platform to move that forward.”

In addition to the new menu, the atmosphere of the cafeteria has also changed.

“It’s bringing everyone in who really never took advantage of it before,” Gow said. “It gives more time for people to instead of sitting down and leaving, they can relax in here or sit outside or in the sun or the seating area that is renewed and built.”

The seating area is an extension of the cafeteria, where students can have a quiet place to eat their food while focusing on their studies. Its design was also part of the school’s construction plan, along with the cafeteria.

“It’s very expansive,” Gow said. “They can even work back there with a cup of coffee or something, either by themselves or with their friends.”

Students weighed in on how they felt about the new design of the cafeteria, as well as the menu options.

“I think it’s very nice,” said Vivian Nguyen, a business major. “The food has changed. I like how you can pick and mix the food, I really like that.”

“Well, it’s my first semester, so I didn’t get to see how the cafeteria looked before, but it looks really nice,” said a science major who preferred to be known only as Tim H. “The food is good.”

A few had different opinions of the menu, especially the cultural entrees.

“I like the attempt, but the [new cuisine] is what scares people,” said Kayla Charles, a science major. “With that being said, just stick to what you know.”

Suggestions about the cafeteria’s menu are always welcome at Gow’s office in the cafeteria, he said.

“I’m on the floor all of the time,” Gow explained. “So if somebody has suggestions, they can either ask one of the employees and they’ll give it to me or they can give them my business card, I’ll talk to them,” explained Gow. “I’ve had people come in, so I’m very friendly and my door is always open for customers who come in with suggestions.”

Contact Hania Jones at

Police academy student hopes to change the public’s perception of officers

By Melissa Simpson

Earvin Faust, 34, has graduated from Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University with degrees in Administration of Justice. In addition to being a part of DCCC’s police academy, he is also earning a master’s degree in public administration at Villanova University. Photo by Melissa Simpson

Philadelphia native Earvin Faust, a 34-year-old DCCC Municipal Police Academy student is in the middle of his year long cadet training at the academy and on track to graduate in December 2016.

For more than 30 years the college’s police academy has been responsible for training 95 percent of Delaware County and 75 percent of Chester County Police officers, according to the college’s website.

Recently, police districts across the country have been under fire for their use of excessive force against racial minorities, including black people. According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between the years of 2003-2009, 30 percent of unarmed people that were killed by police were black, while it was only 19 percent for whites.

In relation to the U.S. population, arrest related deaths were 19 percent higher for black people and 22 percent lower for white people.

Recently, I chatted with Faust about his experiences as a black student in the college’s Municipal Police Academy. We also discussed the training he is receiving in the academy, why he chose to join the academy, and his experiences with police.

Melissa Simpson: Please tell me a little bit about your background.

Earvin Faust: I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I went to community college [of Philadelphia]. I went to Temple and studied criminal justice. I am currently working on my master’s degree in public administration. I have worked in security for retail loss prevention, event security, and private investigation, so I have done a lot of different things.

M: What was the catalyst for you to begin training in the police academy? Was it a natural progression?

E: I believe it was natural progression. I have a natural desire to help people. As I have gone along, especially in the last few years, I have learned who I am as a person and that is what my interest is in — it is where I get self-fulfillment. I have just been taking advantage of opportunities when it comes to my becoming a public servant.

M: What type of training do you go through?

E: We study criminal law, vehicle codes, physical training, firearms training, just how to deal with different people in different situations. It is a pretty broad spectrum of information that they give us. A lot of the things I experienced personally or learned through my other formal education, reinforces those ideas.

M: Do the students in the DCCC’s police academy receive diversity or sensitivity training?

E: Absolutely. We watch several videos. We’ve had instructors talk to us about diversity. When I am in those classes, I kind of look at it from my own point of view. Being a minority in the classroom and in the country, I have a different perspective when I look at the material. I try to look at the material objectively and ask, is it teaching other people who don’t have the same outlook as me what they need to know about my culture?

M: What do you mean by your perspective?

E: In my experiences as a young man, I have seen the good and the bad as far as law enforcement’s treatment of individuals. I have had bad experiences and I have good, but I am not the type to judge because being black, I understand how I don’t want to be forced into stereotypes and have people look at me a certain way because of that. I just kind of look at police the same way. I have had positive and negative interactions with police. I think it is an individual issue as opposed to the group thing.

M: How would you describe your experiences in the police academy so far?

E: I think the instructors have done a good job of making us aware. If you are not familiar with what has been going on in the media, they make us aware when a situation happens. They tell us that is not the approach that we should take. They don’t generally get into specifics, but they are trying to let us know that people do make bad decisions and we can’t just look at it like a group decision.

M: What are your thoughts on the current racial climate in America?

E: I don’t think it is healthy. I think there are a lot of people who are misinformed because of where they receive their information. I really think that you hear a lot of people with a lot of opinions, especially on social media. I see a lot of bias. Some people are looking for confrontation and some people don’t have the proper information to make a proper assumption. There is a lot of chaos between people. A lot of them don’t even have the knowledge or facts. I don’t think people should be discussing it until they have that.

M: Statistically speaking, African-Americans are targeted more by the police than whites. There are also significantly more incarcerated black people than white people. How do you feel about becoming part of an institution that influences these disparities?

E: I can’t really say that it is a matter of the organization. I believe that people need to be accountable for their own actions. We all need to be accountable, whether it is law enforcement or the general public. We all need to be accountable when it comes to making the right decisions. That is why I am in the position that I am in. I feel like I am in the position where I can have a positive influence on negative situations such as those so I can help ease the feelings of those who feel like they are in a disparity [incarceration and arrest]

M: Assuming that you believe that there needs to be improvements in the way that some police interact with people of color, in what ways do you think those improvements can be made?

E: I feel like improvements can be made with community relations. A lot of people are misinformed. They will look at TV and expect that to be case for every situation. I think people need to take a step back and understand that everybody is not out to get you. You can’t always be the victim. You have to step back and ask yourself, “How did I put myself in this situation?” Maybe this person I am dealing with is just a bad person, but not everybody in the group is not the same. It goes for whether you are a person of color or a police officer. Everybody has different experiences and I tend to believe that you shouldn’t generalize.

A life saved by college

By Kharii McMillan

Health sciences major Sonia Carter sits in front of the small lake outside the Marple DCCC campus, having just left her art class for the day before heading to physical therapy. Photo by Kharii McMillan

A smiling Sonia Carter, 45, watches DCCC students pass by near the Burlap and Bean coffee shop on campus.

“I absolutely love college life,” Carter says. Just five months ago, she wasn’t sure if she would still be alive to take part in this community that has given her so much motivation and new found energy, she said.

Carter still recalls the day she had just finished her last final of the semester, on May 11, and remembers her excitement about how well she had done.

“As I was leaving the campus, I let out a cheer, because I knew I had passed the final with flying colors,” Carter says. She then went to her job as a certified nurse’s assistant, where things soon took a turn for the worst.

About an hour after she arrived at work, Carter couldn’t feel her leg from the knee down. Although she worked through her entire eight-hour shift, the numbness in her leg didn’t subside.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” Carter says.

Carter called her niece, Tashina, as she left work, and let her know she needed to go to the hospital.

The diagnosis was a stroke. After an MRI and a CAT-Scan, the neurologist assigned to Carter’s case informed her that she had a brain tumor, one which would require invasive surgery. The tumor was the cause of her stroke, as well as three seizures that occurred while she was at the hospital that, to this day, she does not remember.

This was not Carter’s first time requiring brain surgery. Two years earlier, she went through surgery to remove and replace a bone in the central section of her brain, something that she had hoped to never have to go through again.

Due to this prior surgery, doctors were now able to determine that the tumor had grown rapidly in the two years between operations, and removing the tumor in as short an amount of time as possible was a priority.

Furthermore, doctors determined that she only had a 3 percent chance of surviving the surgery to remove the tumor.

Not yet out of the woods after surgery, Carter has one major resolve. “I will stay in school until I either graduate, or I take my last breath,” Carter says. “Either way, I will not stop going to school.”

The importance of a higher education did not come to Carter initially. After graduating high school, she married a U.S. Navy man, choosing family over school. Twenty-three years later, they went their separate ways.

Although she had a certification as a nurse’s assistant, Carter says she still had longing to go back to school, even though the very thought of doing so as a single mother with kids put fear in her heart.

“My oldest son actually walked me through the doors [of DCCC] one day, unexpectedly,” Carter says in the coffee shop, choking back tears. “He said, ‘So mom, isn’t this where you really want to be?’”

It was.

With the help of registration advisors, guidance counselors, and financial aid advisors, Carter began her journey of college education while working two jobs, one as a CNA at Inglis House, and one as a private duty CNA working one-on-one with people in need.

Although the fulfillment of going back to school was something that motivated and excited Carter, she didn’t notice the toll the tumor was taking on her body, until it was almost too late.

“I was constantly jumping and going,” Carter says. “Whether it was school, work, or studying, I was constantly in motion, and I always had that lightheaded feeling you get when you stand up too fast.”

Now, on May 11, Carter had a decision to make.

Have the surgery, or die.

This was the choice facing Carter, one that she had to make with numerous family members in mind. “I could have chosen to not have the surgery, but be able to spend a little more time with my family,” Carter says.

On May 27, Carter’s surgeon, neurologist Dr. Aubrey Okpokue, told her family to be prepared for Carter not to be able to remember any of them after the surgery, provided she even beat the enormous odds against her to survive it.

When she awoke from the surgery, however, Carter’s sister Natasha, who was present at every appointment, said she was able to name each and every family member in the room, to the shock of even Okpokue.

The next day, Carter had another small victory, as she took her first steps, despite doctors believeing she would struggle to ever walk again.

Today, she requires a metal brace for her leg to be as active as she is determined to be throughout her day, but it does not undermine her ambition to continue her educational goals, Carter adds.

Although she was able to go home for therapy after the surgery, the difficult news was still yet to come. At her followup appointment with Okpokue in early July, Carter was told that the tumor that was removed was cancerous, and she would require radiation therapy, another blow to her dreams of returning to school.

“I told the doctors that I had to go back to school,” Carter says. “Whatever needed to be done before Aug. 28, when classes start back up, we’re going to do it.”

Against her doctors’ initial advice, Carter signed up for classes after her radiation therapy ended on Aug 4. She was informed that she would have to continue physical therapy, however, and would not be able to work until November, when she will learn if the radiation killed off the cancer cells, or did any long-term damage to her body.

Carter believes attending college expand one’s worldview, giving students a perspective that allows them to see the good in all people.

“When I look at people now, I see that we’re all the same. We all want the same things,” Carter says.

According to Carter, seeing such diverse personalities, ethnicities, and lifestyles allowed her to fall in love with the beauty of all people, and it has helped her deal with the struggle of living with cancer.

“It’s the last thing on my mind,” Carter says. “Between family, school, and worrying about providing for others, the cancer is something I don’t stop to think about throughout the day.”

Carter credits her family with keeping her spirits up and supporting her every step of the way. And they will continue to be the focal point in her continued therapy and battle with cancer until the end, she believes.

The next stop in Sonia Carter’s turbulent journey: attending classes at DCCC until Nov. 27, at which time she will learn if she has to go through more radiation therapy.

Although the most recent surgery saved Carter’s life, college is what gave it new meaning, Carter says, so she will forever be grateful for the opportunities provided by walking back through the doors of DCCC.

“College makes you more well-rounded, more openminded, and able to deal with critical points in life,” Carter says. “It really has changed my life.”

Contact Kharii McMillan at