[ teaching & learning ]

JEDI Institute supports student success at Suffolk CC


he demographics of Suffolk County Community College’s student population are changing. Now, thanks to a joint program launched by the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College and college administrators, its faculty and staff are learning how to change with them.

JEDI Institute participants sit at a large round table playing the Achieving the Dream board game “Finish Line"


JEDI Institute participants play the Achieving the Dream board game “Finish Line.” The game is designed to help higher education faculty and administrators increase their awareness of the barriers to student success. Teams “walk in the shoes” of 10 students as they navigate their journeys through college and explore the impact of college policies, practices and culture on student progress and success.

“Our students have more needs post pandemic, we have more returning adult learners and nearly 40 percent of our students now identify as Hispanic,” said Cynthia Eaton, FASCC secretary. The FASCC is led by NYSUT Board member Dante Morelli.

To keep pace with student needs, the FASCC and administrators launched the JEDI Institute, a professional development program that explores concrete ways to make the institution more just, equitable, diverse and inclusive — JEDI — for students. The program idea originated in 2021 during an April book discussion focused on equity issues that included the college’s chief diversity officer.

“I suggested developing a summer institute and our chief diversity officer wanted to do it,” said Eaton. “We’d tried establishing a diversity program before but nothing stuck.”

After drafting a program in collaboration with administrators, Eaton and the FASCC applied for and won a $35,000 American Federation of Teachers Back-to-School Grant. A JEDI pilot launched the summer of 2021 with classroom and non-classroom staff. The JEDI Institute incorporates many aspects of NYSUT’s Many Threads, One Fabric diversity, equity and inclusion teachings, such as “looking at issues of race/ethnicity, gender and class,” said Eaton.

JEDI Institutes begin with three five-hour meetings in the summer focused on self-reflection through journaling, group discussions, guest speakers, and readings.

“They get a glimpse into what life is like for a good number of our students,” said Eaton explaining that the identities help faculty understand how a student’s life experiences can impact their classroom performance.

Summer participants develop and fine tune a JEDI project to launch in the fall. Past projects include “scientist spotlights” that highlight multicultural scientific professionals in readings and classroom discussions and a “brag sheet,” a form students fill out to help faculty learn more about them.

“We’re trying to be more student centered and focused by trying to understand what challenges they face that may prevent them from succeeding,” said Eaton.

A winter session meeting explores what worked and what didn’t. “Successful projects add on, those whose projects weren’t successful pivot back and either choose a new project or tweak it, so they have a second crack at it in the spring semester.”

Eaton developed a JEDI Institute landing page on the FASCC website offering resources and information. A JEDI syllabus once offered only through that page now appears on the college’s faculty portal providing campuswide access. She considers the change a win.

“Every year we get 35 or 45 participants, the majority are union members, but we’ve also gotten some administrators, support staff and public safety folks,” said Eaton noting that out of FASCC’s roughly 400 full time and 900 adjunct members, about 150 have participated so far. “We feel that JEDI work is everyone’s job since the way we interact with students is so important. As our student body continues to change, it’s critical that we continue to change and grow along with them.”