Innovation in higher education must benefit students

150 150 Ed Coghlan

City College of San Francisco graduation (Photo Credit: CCSF)

The headline in this blog isn’t the concoction of some editor—they are the words of a California State University Sacramento student who will speak at the first California Awards for Innovation in Higher Education Showcase on March 9 in Sacramento.

Chrissy Leuma is a representative of Students Making a Change and will be featured on a panel focusing on the challenge and opportunities of innovation in higher education.

For Chrissy Leuma, speaking at the event as a voice for students makes a lot of sense.

“It took me six years to get through City College of San Francisco,” said Leuma, who is a native of American Samoa. “Students want to get out faster, but often they don’t know how and didn’t believe that the system was always set up for them to succeed.”

The Showcase recognizes California community colleges, California State University and University of California showcases that have innovated to revitalize California’s long-standing commitment to access to higher education while establishing an equal commitment to completion for all students. 

Fifty-seven innovation applications were submitted to the Department of Finance. The March 9 Showcase, already at capacity, will include presentation of some of those innovations, discussion and networking with higher education innovators, business and civic leaders and state policymakers.

While at CCSF, Leuma became connected with the organization, “Students Making a Change” also known by the memorable acronym of SMAC.

She plans to share with the Showcase audience the work being done by her organization and other student groups to influence the system from the inside to benefit students.

“Students, and particularly students of color, need to have a voice to make the system efficient and prepare students for completing their studies and succeeding in the workplace after that,” she said.

It’s the little things—or they may seem little from the outside–that this student leader emphasizes like having more counselors in higher education who can help students navigate the system and make sure that the education received prepares students for the jobs that are available in California’s 21st-century economy.

“I’ve had many friends fall through the cracks, especially in the Community Colleges,” she said. “That must continue to change.”

We asked her what she hopes her impact on the Showcase will be.

“I hope when they leave the Showcase they’ll understand the need to put even more emphasis on the student’s perspective,” said Leuma. “The students are the customers of the higher education system.”

The Awards are innovative in themselves, and the day promises plenty of interesting ideas and conversation. The innovation applications that will be discussed in concurrent sessions at the March 9 Showcase cover three main areas:

  • Supporting Students
  • Transforming Colleges
  • Collaborating Across Sectors

“Improvement is critical to reduce the income gap and to give more Californians the skills to be economically successful,” said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of California Forward, which is convening the Showcase in partnership with the College Futures Foundation, California Competes, The Campaign for College Opportunity, The Center for California Students, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and the Young Invincibles.

The Showcase kicks off at 12 noon at the Sacramento Grand Ballroom. The Master of Ceremonies is West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. Winners of the Awards will be selected from the applicants later this year and will receive a piece of a $50-million fund created last year.

For Chrissy Leuma, her work in public advocacy will continue after she earns her Ethnic Studies degree at Cal State Sacramento.

“When I graduate I plan to continue to this advocacy work to make changes that benefit all Californians,” she added.


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan