Meet Our Team – Linda Jensen
This is the fourth in a series of interviews with the College Success Arizona team.
Continuing with this feature, and throughout the next year, we’ll be taking a closer look at the College Success Arizona team, the people that make all that we do happen. We’ll be asking the normal “tell us a little about yourself” questions, but also delving a little deeper into each team member’s personality, and what makes them who they are.
This month’s subject is Linda Jensen, the Director of the Arizona College Access Network (AZCAN).
What is your professional background?
I have been in education my entire professional career. I started as a teacher and I have worked at a graduate school, I have worked at the community college district, and really have committed myself to ensuring that students have opportunities to continue their education beyond high school.
Can you tell us about the Arizona College Access Network?
AzCAN is a network of a little over two-hundred organizations throughout out the state of Arizona. Athough these organizations are geographically diverse, and they’re diverse in the work that they do, the one unifying element among all of them is the fact that everybody is committed to ensuring that students can meet with postsecondary success. Everyone one plays a slightly different role in helping students meet with that success; helping them either prepare for their success, in terms of the work that they’re doing while they’re still in high school, or supporting them once they get to postsecondary, and ensuring that they complete and are successful in then landing the job of their dreams.
What is AzCAN’s mission?
The mission of AzCAN is to ensure that all students have the opportunity for postsecondary education. We especially focus on low income and first generation students to ensure that they have the same level of opportunity, and that there is equity in the education that they are able to obtain. We know that education is one of those elements that can bring a family out of poverty, create all kinds of opportunities, and open doors.
How is AzCAN connected to College Success Arizona?
AzCAN is a program of College Success Arizona. We are part and parcel of everything that College Success Arizona does. We are that network of people, professionals, and the practitioners out in the field who are doing the work to ensure that our students are preparing effectively, and that they are ready for their educational challenges once they leave high school.
Can you talk about the members in AzCAN?
The organizations that comprise our membership include high school-based programs, nonprofits out in the community, faith-based organizations, postsecondary institutions and their outreach programs, scholarship organizations, and government policymakers. We really have a wide breadth of expertise within our network, but the unifying element is that somehow everyone helps support students in achieving their postsecondary goals.
Can you tell us how AzCAN has/is helping students prepare for education beyond high school?
Our AzCAN members are experts in a lot of different aspects of preparation. They really represent the entire educational continuum. Some of our members have expertise in preparing leaders, and ensuring that students are confident, and have the social skills and the support networks in place to be successful beyond high school. Others are working on academic preparation and ensuring that students are taking rigorous course work, and are really good students so that they’re getting high enough GPA’s to get into the schools of their choice. Other organizations are helping with scholarships or financial literacy – so, our members are playing different roles in the preparation of our students, because we know as a statewide network that it really does take everyone working together to support our students’ success. It’s not just about academics – really it’s about academics and social, emotional, and cultural factors and in having a support network in place. All of those factors are essential to meeting with success.
How many students do AzCAN members work with each year?
We actually serve a little over 500-thousand students. Our members reach students all over the state. We have some organizations within our membership that are statewide, and then others are very, very local. We run the gamut from members who serve 25 students and serve very deeply, and are making sure to give that one-on-one assistance to students. Other members, such as AZTransfer for example, have a statewide database that is accessible to every student across Arizona in helping make those decisions about how to transition from high school to community college, and to university, without skipping a beat. So, in essence, our members are reaching well over half-a-million students across the state
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing students in Arizona today as they prepare for their futures beyond high school?
Our students have so many choices ahead of them, and sometimes the hardest challenge is for them to narrow down their interests, and exactly where they want to pursue their education. They also have financial challenges, in that, postsecondary education has become very expensive. Unless you understand how to navigate FAFSA and the world of financial aid, and scholarships, it can be very daunting to think about financing your education. We work with the students to help them figure out what it is they want to pursue, and then how do they fund that dream.
Can you talk the role that AzCAN plays in increasing Arizona’s college attainment rate?
AzCAN members want so ensure that every single student in Arizona has an opportunity to pursue their education after high school. And that means that students will be going after certificates, degrees, apprenticeships, and military opportunities, which all help increase our attainment rate. What our members are doing is helping our students prepare for whatever it is that comes beyond high school, with the idea that they need to continue learning after high school. We encourage them to continue learning and to pursue a career that is going to be a passion for them. That will all lead into a greater attainment rate for the state of Arizona, and will feed the pipeline for our workforce needs.