United States: Q&A With Guttman Community College's Chief Of Staff Linda Merians And Kednel-Gregory Jean

Last Updated: February 27 2018
Article by Wendy Dessy

At Proskauer, we have a strong connection to the communities in which we live and work, and a deep commitment to their success. We are especially proud of our relationship with Stella and Charles Guttman Community College, located only a few blocks from our New York office.

When the college established its private 501(c)(3) foundation, our Firm was one of the first to make a donation. The donation provides funding for the college to buy food gift cards at Subway restaurants, available throughout the city, so that students who are hungry can purchase something to eat. The College is located in the Bryant Park area, and local restaurants are far too expensive. Food insecurity is a major problem for Guttman students. Guttman has a food pantry, which is run by its Single Stop office, and also partners with the Food Bank for New York City.

Proskauer's relationship goes beyond donations. We have led career panel discussions and recently organized a two-day pop-up shop from clothing that we donated. More than 80 students dropped by to shop.

Learn more about the college and its student programs in the following Q&A with Linda Merians, Chief of Staff, and Kednel-Gregory Jean, Director of Guttman's Single Stop office:

Wendy: Tell me about Guttman Community College's history. How was the school founded and why?

Linda: In 2008, Chancellor Goldstein of CUNY wanted to solve issues with community college systems – graduation rates were low and something was clearly not working. Chancellor Goldstein convened committees from various CUNY colleges to rethink community college education – they began to imagine the Guttman model. We opened our doors in 2012. Guttman is different than any other community college because of its approach and community.

Wendy: What is the Guttman model?

Linda: Guttman has a structured pathways approach to college education. We begin with a mandatory Summer Bridge Program, funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, which brings the students to campus two weeks before the term officially begins. This summer program provides our students with a detailed overview of Guttman's model and helps them acclimate to the school. It is where they become familiar and comfortable with our expectations, and it is designed to give them a feeling of belonging.

During Summer Bridge, the students learn about the specialized first-year courses they are required to take, as well as all of the resources that are available to them. The first-year offers a core curriculum which gives students the structure to succeed; they are organized into cohorts and are assigned Student Success Advocates (SSA), who mentor and support them. After the first year, we have career strategists who help students with selection of their major, career path, application to senior colleges, and application to jobs.

Wendy: Please provide an overview of your students.

Linda: Now in its sixth year, Guttman has slightly over 1,000 students. 95% of our students are from the boroughs of New York City; 72% are 19 or younger. The college does not accept transfer students, and we require that students attend on a full-time basis for their first-year. The college is rich in relation to the diversity of its students: 59% Hispanic; 27% African American; 5% Asian; 8% White. The majority of students are the first in their families to attend college.

The Guttman model has helped produce higher graduation rates than even the planners of the college imagined. The average three-year graduation rate for public urban community colleges is 17%. Guttman's three-year graduation rate is 44-49%. The majority of the college's students go on to senior colleges, predominately CUNY senior colleges, after they earn their degree at Guttman.

Wendy: Can you tell us about how you build experiential learning into your curriculum?

Kednel: Guttman teaches students how to advocate for themselves – they learn leadership skills and critical thinking. Experiential education is built into the curriculum which helps with success because it gives students first-hand experience. Learning About Being Successful (LABS), which is built into their first year, is another program that helps prepare the students for senior colleges by giving them skills, lessons in financial aid, and emotional preparation. The college also has "Community Days" programming, which sends students out to various communities across the city to take part in events that seek to help people (for example, working in a soup kitchen, mentoring students, etc.).

Wendy: Tell us about a Career Pathway program.

Linda: Guttman has an exciting partnership with a national bank where we work together to "tee up" students for part-time teller jobs. The bank and Guttman staff work together to provide skill-building and job training for a group of approximately 30 students. Our program is designed in such a way so that when students go through the regular hiring and onboarding process, they will have a better chance to succeed. When the students become part-time tellers, they can still attend school, be it at Guttman or a senior college.

Wendy: What's next for Guttman and Proskauer?

Linda: Our career panel discussions with Proskauer were so successful and inspirational for the students. I look forward to more discussions and career development conversations with the Firm. Our students greatly value these types of programs and mentorship. Thank you.

Q&A With Guttman Community College's Chief Of Staff Linda Merians And Kednel-Gregory Jean

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