The Laotian, Hmong, Hispanic and other foreign-born parents at Jefferson School in Fresno are uncertain about this woman from the regional community college district who wants their children to attend college.
In English and Spanish Carlson relates her own experience as a first-generation Mexican American. "My father was afraid of my going to college," she tells them as interpreters translate into other languages.
Reassured, Hispanic parents ask questions. Then, as interpreters continue to help the parents from other backgrounds, they also voice questions. The queries carry common concerns: "Will my child have to live away from home?" "What will it cost?" "How can my family afford it?" "How long does college take?"
These are some of the same questions that Carlson's father asked years ago.
Since that time, Carlson has gone on to earn one of the first doctorates from the UC Davis-California State University Fresno Joint Doctoral Program for Educational Leadership. A role model for her area's multicultural population, she carries a message: "If I can do it, you can do it."
Designed for educators in the San Joaquin Valley, the joint-doctoral program was created in 1990 by the Division of Education at UC Davis and the Division of Graduate Studies at CSU Fresno. Ten graduates received an Ed.D. degree in 1994 and 1995. Currently, 56 educators are enrolled, all working to translate into practice what they have learned in the four- or five-year program.
Rosemary Papalewis, the CSU Chancellor's Office executive director of inter-institutional relations and former co-director of the joint-doctoral program, says these students, "rich in life experiences," are leaders in their educational organizations.
"They have attracted top faculty from the two public segments of higher education across the state," Papalewis said. "As the only public multicampus doctoral program in California, the program is evidence that UC and CSU can collaborate creatively in professional degree preparation." Because Fresno ranks seventh in the nation in the number of students with limited English proficiency, the doctoral program goes beyond the traditional focus on administration to address a broader range of schooling issues that arise with a diverse student population.
An interdisciplinary faculty from three CSU and six UC campuses (Davis, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Riverside, Berkeley) provides the comprehensive curriculum, allowing students to specialize in their particular interest. Students work with dissertation advisers from both the CSU and UC systems.
Program co-director Robert DeVillar, associate dean in the College of Letters and Science and associate professor in the Division of Education, says the focus is on fostering academic success for culturally and linguistically heterogeneous K-12 students.
"While completing their coursework, the doctoral students continue as full-time working professionals and leaders within the San Joaquin Valley," he said. "Through this unique mix, our graduates become research-based professional leaders. As such, they are in a position to influence educational practice and policy, to guide schools in their reform mandates with the knowledge that comes from educational research and the sensitivity that comes from understanding the realities of the classroom and the students."
The interests and background of the doctoral graduates and candidates reflects San Joaquin Valley's demographic diversity:
Groups on her high school campus present assemblies honoring commemorative days, such as for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday or Cinco de Mayo. Even though attendance for these events is optional, two-thirds to three-fourths of the student body attends. "The hard work of a number of our faculty and students makes it all possible," she said.
Rogers has also expanded student and parent conferences that explore careers and higher education.
One of the "first wave" of Hmong, Yang has been in the state for 19 years and is one of the few Hmong with a doctoral degree. Yang was selected for the commission because of his doctorate, community involvement, and his knowledge of new immigrant cultures.
"Nothing was available for these students, who come from mostly lower- or middle-class neighborhoods that include African American, Hispanic and Southeast Asian families," he said. Meeting two days a week after school, students work on improving skills in critical thinking, science, math, computer/technology, literature, foreign language, drama and fine arts.
Her connection with CSU Fresno led to two on-site programs for teachers to earn special credentials in "Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development" and "Bilingual Spanish, Cross-Cultural, Language and Academic Development."
She is also responsible for a program for district paraprofessionals who want to become teachers.
"Some students may not do well on tests because of their cultural upbringing," Dunworth said. His doctoral studies guide his work at Clovis, where educators are working to align assessment, curriculum and instruction.
Garcia, a vice principal at Roosevelt High School, has several ideas to help the situation, including a flexible master schedule that offers opportunities for students to transfer to gifted and talented courses; more projects, presentations and research in all courses; and increased parental education.
She uses her community college position to help organizations and programs to connect, such as high school Teachers of Tomorrow clubs and the CSU Fresno Education Department. The two community colleges in her district now offer an introduction to teaching course that is articulated with CSU Fresno.
Carlson credits the joint-doctoral program for providing opportunities to discuss current issues in education with other professionals, community members and parents.
The importance of parental involvement for student success is reflected in her outreach programs.
"I am convinced that all of us must coordinate and plan together how best to educate our children," she said. "We educators can no longer work in isolation. Education begins in the home."