Diana Boro-Boswell: Helping students meet college with confidence

photo of diana boro-boswell, first year experience coordinator at lbcc

If you're thinking that enrolling in community college might mean a life adjustment or two, you're absolutely right.

"The expectations of the college environment are completely different from a high school environment, from a work environment, from a military environment, from a parenting environment," said Diana Boro-Boswell, coordinator of First-Year Experience at Linn-Benton Community College. "They are new and novel, and almost no one can be completely prepared for them." 

Fear not, however. LBCC's 10-week Destination Graduation course is all about giving students exactly that preparation, and it's what Boro-Boswell loves about her job. She helps students find tutors, connect with advisers, learn about academic coaching, get library research help, develop educational plans and otherwise create strategies for college success.

"I love the opportunity that community college provides," she said. "We are an open-door institution. Regardless of your previous experience with education, you can get a fresh start here."

Take math, for instance - and plenty of students wish you would. 

"So often, students report math anxiety," she said. "They've had previous poor experiences or performance. And they get here and their experience is totally different, because they're treated differently. The math is taught differently. So it's like a clean slate that really surprises a lot of students."

Boro-Boswell is starting her sixth year with LBCC. She has a master's in social work with a concentration in prevention science and came to the college to help make a difference for a larger cross-section of students.

Before joining the faculty, she spent two years at Corvallis and Alsea high schools as a youth and family therapist and prevention specialist, working with families in crisis. It was an important position, but she wanted a chance to work next in a preventative capacity, getting to students before they encounter problems. 

One of the things she likes about LBCC is that it attracts all ages and backgrounds. She enjoys working with newly-minuted adults who weren't allowed to sign their own paperwork as little as a year ago as much as she enjoys working with older pupils who may be re-entering the academic world after years of parenting, military service or working in the private sector. 

"My first Destination Graduation class, I had a 17-year-old and a 65-year-old in the same class," she said. "The draw is twofold: One, it's helping these younger students, and two, it's helping our older students return to college with confidence."

Some students, especially ones without families who have experienced college, feel if they can't figure out the system by themselves, they don't deserve to be enrolled, she said. "We want them to understand that's completely not true."

Boro-Boswell is looking forward to coming back to campus part time this fall, but said the remote restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be beneficial in unexpected ways.

"For years, we debated whether or not we should teach First-Year Experience remotely, and we always said we shouldn't. We always said it's so important to do this face to face," she said. "So I went in dragging my heels - and I have been so pleasantly surprised by the results."

For instance, she said, remote classes have opened up accessibility. One student, she remembered, had his 7-year-old daughter for half the week every week and also worked full time, so Zoom classes were perfect for his schedule. He could check in online for an hour while his daughter played in another room in a way that wouldn't have been possible if he had to drive an hour to the Albany campus, attend class and then drive home. 

For students who were experiencing added stress and anxiety trying to navigate schoolwork in the midst of a pandemic, she said, "It was wonderful to be their go-to person during that time."

Going online also strengthened her own work, Boro-Boswell said, because she couldn't just take a quick glance around a classroom to assess everyone's level of understanding.

"You have to really, really up your communication game to try to predict all the eventualities of what someone might perceive you're saying," she said. "I couldn't rest on my interpersonal skills. I really had to organize and communicate in a different way. It was a real growth opportunity for me as well." 

LBCC had a first-year experience program before hiring Boro-Boswell, but she is its first dedicated faculty coordinator. She created the textbook and trains other faculty as well as teaching.

The course is required for all new students and anyone who comes to LBCC through the Oregon Promise grant. 

A required first-year course in building college skills is relatively rare at the community college level, but is part of the standard curriculum at Yale, Harvard and other Ivy League schools, Boro-Boswell said. Oregon has been a pioneer in recognizing its importance at the two-year level.

"What we're doing here is in line with the best practices at some of these (four-year) schools. It's just that people don't look at it like that," she said. "Everyone needs this, because standards and expectations are so high in college, and we all need support doing it."