Linda D. Rose: ELP Alumna Wants South L.A. to Give It the Old College Try

President of Southwest College plans to raise the bar for underprepared students, provide more services to support South L.A. community.

After nearly a year in her post as president of Los Angeles Southwest College, Linda D. Rose (’07, Ed.D., Educational Leadership Program) has clearly defined the path that she wants her campus to take, in part inspired by from her own personal habit of creating “vision boards” with her friends, a project that charts where they want to be in the next ten years. During her 20 years as an English teacher in community college, she often had students assess their own personal goals in the context of a writing assignment.

“I try to teach students that they have a goal,” Rose says. “Research shows if you’re focused on what you’re doing and you’re organized about it, it gets done.”

Rose, who grew up in the South Los Angeles community that Southwest College serves, says that although she enjoyed elementary school, her performance in middle school and high school floundered. She laughs when she recalls the shocked reaction of her sons – who are both electrical engineers who graduated from CSU Long Beach – when she showed them her less than exemplary report cards.

“My mom didn’t graduate from high school; neither did my stepfather,” says Rose. “I was one of eight kids, so the goal was just to graduate from high school without getting pregnant. I didn’t go to college – I started working at a factory when I graduated from high school and got married when I was 19.

“That’s why I’m empathetic with students in community college. I truly understand the adults who have the desire to [gain an education], but they don’t know how to do it.”

Rose, who at 34 with two young boys and a high school diploma, was working at TRW – now Northrop Grumman – and watching her colleagues return to college to further their careers. She entered the PACE program at West Los Angeles College and earned her associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences.

“The PACE program caters to adults, and because the faculty understood that they weren’t teaching kids, the success rate is phenomenal – the majority of students graduate,” says Rose. “I did it initially to earn more money where I was working, but I thought, ‘Wait a minute – I don’t have to stay here.’’’

Rose continued to work at TRW while pursuing her bachelor’s degree and eventually her master’s degree at CSU Dominguez Hills – an achievement that propelled her to her first teaching job in the English department at Cerritos College, and eventually, to her administrative career. After serving as an instructional dean in the Liberal Arts Division at Cerritos College, she served as vice president of academic affairs at Santa Ana College, until taking the helm at Southwest last summer. While still at Cerritos College, Rose began her studies at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.

“One of the things that helped me when I was at UCLA was to learn how to look at higher education more holistically and more globally,” she says. “That is why I wanted to go to UCLA’s program as opposed to other Ed.D. programs [that] only focused on community colleges. I wanted a more global perspective about education, period, not just one area.”

Rose says that the traditional view of community colleges as smorgasbords of electives or a way to provide a terminal A.A. degree – that in today’s job market, is hardly a bargaining chip – needs to change.

“We have this cafeteria approach to community colleges – well, to college in general,” she says. “[Students] want direction, they need direction, and we should be able to provide pathways for them if we’re going to make any kind of movement in our urban areas – especially where we have high poverty and overwhelming socioeconomic issues. Are we educating students for the hell of it? Or are we educating students so that they can do something with what they get? Even English majors have to eat.”

Rose says that approximately 30 percent of Southwest students are older, returning students; the population is largely female, between the ages of 19 and 34. She also notes that they are underprepared and underresourced for college – but not unreachable.

“These students are not just right out of high school, and that makes a difference – they already have basic skills,” she says. “It’s not that they don’t have the mental capacity to do the work; they are underprepared to do [college] work, and we need to find ways to prepare them and change their mindset about how to address the problem.”

As an English teacher, Rose realized that teaching composition to adults would be more effective when her lessons held relevance to their own circumstances. She says that her later research in developmental education and accelerated learning stems from her experiences in the classroom.

“I was taught to have a syllabus, a reading list, and have students read and write about the classics,” she recalls. “After three years, it dawned on me: I was supposed to teach them how to communicate in writing. How I did that was up to me, based on my sense of how my students learned.

“I started using more social justice themes in my composition classes, and the students responded to that well,” says Rose. “They were still writing, but I would get phenomenal papers from students who placed at the developmental writing level on the placement test, but what I read was above that level. They were writing about things they cared about. Then I could start teaching them the grammar. They realized, ‘If I do this, I can get my message across.’”

The realization that students in areas like South L.A. need instruction and guidance that is relevant not only to their lives but to their actual goals – or lack thereof – is something that guides Rose’s leadership of Southwest College. Having been an academic late bloomer herself has given her a truer understanding of what it takes to educate a population of students whose aspirations have been deferred but not destroyed.

“Part of the work that I want to do here is centered on the complications of being human and the complications of educating people who aren’t really sure why they’re here,” says Rose. “They know they want something, but they’re not sure. There’s no one solution to the problem of preparing students who come here for the next level if they want to transfer. It’s so multifaceted, because we all learn differently, and respond to problems differently. Even the ways we respond to positive things in our lives are not the same.”

Currently, Rose is in the planning stages of bringing One Way, Inc., a local nonprofit focused on the success of African American boys and men, back to the Southwest campus where it originated; her goal is to establish them on campus this fall. She is also planning to expand services in the college’s Passages program for males of color, and an initiative for male and female veterans. Another wish list item for Rose is more outreach to middle schools to build a college-bound student population.

“I don’t want to be just another new president, putting programs in place,” Rose says. “It’s really important for me that the things I do while I’m here will be here for a while. I’m not going to be here forever. Presidents come with their own agendas, and when they go away, the agenda goes away.

“One of the things that is going to be really important for me is to get people to collaborate,” she says. “In higher education, we have silos. We need to be collaborating and partnering more, because we’ll end up with more.”