Members of the University of Phoenix administration recently attended the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEAs) 2021 Regions Week conference. The virtual event attracts thousands of UPCEA members from all five regions to share strategies and attend poster sessions and breakout talks while networking with other attendees. UPCEA represents more than 400 institutions throughout the Central, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Southern, and Western U.S. including most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. The organization has a particular focus on professional, continuing and online education programs serving adult learners like University of Phoenix.
During the virtual conference, which was held October 8-21, attendees had an opportunity to share their own strategies to continue and expand educational offerings and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. All schools had to adapt quickly to continue to meet student needs during the pandemic.
University of Phoenix made a number of adjustments and announcements in response to the pandemic including moving all students to a virtual learning environment and closing all campus centers in March 2020, providing flexible alternatives including telehealth for students in counseling programs who needed to accrue clinical hours and postponing the 2020 commencement. It was paramount to University officials that growth and opportunity for both students and faculty did not slow down as a result of the public health emergency. Instead, they pulled together resources and found new solutions to address the unforeseen difficulties.
How University of Phoenix Promoted Faculty Development During the Pandemic
This included new approaches for promoting faculty development in the midst of the pandemic, a topic addressed at the UPCEA conference by Emily Breuker, associate provost of faculty engagement at University of Phoenix. Breuker presented on the topic with colleagues from other UPCEA institutions.
“This is a collaborative session exploring the various ways University of Phoenix and other institutions engaged with faculty during Covid-19 to promote their development,” Breuker remarked prior to the conference. “We will be looking at our different approaches as well as the technology, tools, systems, structures and processes and content that universities can consider.”
Fostering a Culture of Belonging at University of Phoenix
Not all of the talks were focused on the impact of the pandemic on academic institutions. Two University of Phoenix administrators, Alexandra Escobar, director of programmatic accreditation and regulatory compliance, and Saray Lopez, MBA, director of the Office of Educational Equity, presented together on best practices for fostering community and belonging for nontraditional students and part-time faculty from both an institutional and a programmatic perspective.
University of Phoenix recognizes and values the benefits of diversity and strives to create an inclusive community that embraces different backgrounds, experiences, races, ethnicities, genders, ages, sexual orientations and religions. The Office for Educational Equity supports various diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives throughout the University. These include educational partnerships and initiatives, training events for staff and faculty, participation in diversity events and conferences and a webinar series on DEI topics of interest.
During the joint talk for the UPCEA Regions Week Conference, Escobar said, “We wanted to highlight how large-scale University initiatives around Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging contribute to more focused college and efforts and vice versa.” Lopez and Escobar shared how University of Phoenix has fostered community through cross-departmental collaboration and initiatives developed by both the Office of Educational Equity and the College of Education’s DEI Council.
Office of Educational Equity Uses Inclusive Café to Cultivate Belonging
In a recent report on “Cultivating a Sense of Belonging,” Lopez and Tondra Richardson, MBA, CDP, director of student diversity and inclusion in the Office of Educational Equity, wrote about the steps their office has taken to create a sense of belonging among students, faculty and staff. This includes the Inclusive Café which launched in June 2020. This virtual space for faculty and staff built community through biweekly sessions hosted by subject matter experts on topics impacting various communities.
In the first session, “one participant shared her experience as a Black wife and mother and the fear and anxiety she struggles with each day,” the report noted. “In another instance, an Enrollment Advisor reached out directly to explain how she was multi-racial and struggled to see where she in as well as how this impacted her discussions with students.”
Through these experiences, which they shared in the broader UPCEA community, University of Phoenix leaders say they’ve learned the importance of creating intentional spaces for candid conversations, to ask questions of the community to understand their needs and to empathize with the difficulties various community members are experiencing and how the pandemic may be exacerbating those issues.
About University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix is dedicated to providing education and career opportunities to people of all backgrounds and experiences. In doing so, the University strives to create an educational environment that is built around inclusivity, belonging and celebrating differences. University of Phoenix is designed to meet the needs of nontraditional students and provides flexible schedules, online learning, affordability and coursework designed to prepare adult learners with career options in high-demand industries. With Career Services for Life® commitment, students can pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives.