PACE paves path for busy students

Shweta Saraswat

An insurance broker. A tutor for deaf children. A loan officer.

These are some of the Pierce College students juggling work and school who have found a path to higher education that suits their unique needs in the Pierce Accelerated College Education (PACE) program.

PACE, located in Faculty 2800, offers weekend and evening classes specifically geared towards students who work full time and are trying to transfer to a California State University, with paths designed specifically for business majors, elementary education majors or general transfer.

The office is appropriately decorated with a banner reading “Make It Happen.”

“Theoretically, PACE is designed to get a student to CSUN in either liberal arts or business in two years,” said Jack Sterk, academic adviser for PACE. “If a student completes the PACE program, they qualify for both a transfer and an A.A. degree. We are a quarter system with two quarters in fall, two in spring and one in summer. So, if you took two classes each quarter…in two years you will have 60 units.”

PACE student and business major Wayne Smith, 23, works 40 hours a week as an insurance broker.

“The fact that the schedule is broken into two eight-week quarters makes it a lot easier for me to focus on two classes at a time,” said Smith. “It’s definitely the easiest way to go to school while I’m working.”

PACE classes are much more accelerated than normal classes. When asked how she plans to adjust her teaching methods for a PACE class, Professor Aydin McBride, a first-time PACE professor, said she’ll be going “very fast.”

PACE also offers “bridge” classes that prepare students to take higher math and English classes.

Professor Edwin Gruber, who is teaching a math bridge course this quarter, said, “The most important thing in the PACE program is to teach the skills to the students and make sure they can use those skills in other classes and when they go out in the world.”

Though Pierce has offered PACE for about 20 years now, academic advisement services have only recently been available. In addition to helping students set up their schedules in the most efficient and convenient manner, advisers do everything from finding classes for students to providing academic tutoring.

“We’re constantly answering questions and constantly trying to point students in the right direction,” said Sterk. “What I say to them is, don’t drop the class until you come and talk to me, so we can see what the problem is and what the alternatives are.”

Another key aspect of the PACE program is its cohort system in which students go through classes with the same people, an arrangement which also serves as a support system for the students.

“Most students drop a class here or there, or fail a class here or there,” said Sterk. “That means they are no longer in the cohort program. What we are trying to do is get them back on track.”

Business major and PACE student Julio Contreras, 39, has noticed that since the creation of the academic advisement office, the counseling services have improved greatly.

“I encourage students to seek help,” Contreras said.

Though PACE was originally intended for older individuals, the student population of Pierce’s PACE program is varied.

“It used to be way back that there were more females than males, but now more males are coming back to finish their degrees,” said Dr. Larry Andre, PACE assistant director. “Before it was pretty much adults ages 20 to 40, but now a lot of younger students who don’t have the luxury of not working want to benefit from the accelerated system and convenient timing.”