With a talent and a passion for creativity, Dr. Tyffany Dowd, originally studied business administration with the aim of opening her own dance studio. But while earning her bachelor’s degree, Tyffany made a decision that set her on a new path to her current role in helping students at Santa Monica College fulfill their personal and educational goals through a variety of pioneering projects that build connections and community and that widen educational gateways.
While studying at Concordia University Irvine, the Rancho Cucamonga native took a job as an admissions telecounselor. Later, she became a resident advisor, which also involved peer-counseling. Impressed by her leadership abilities, Concordia’s dean of students encouraged Tyffany to join an undergraduate fellows program offered by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA).
“The program mentored underrepresented populations who were potentially interested in pursuing student affairs as a profession,” she recalls. It also required an internship, which exposed her to the vast differences that academic counselors can make in students’ lives — especially those from underserved communities. During her time as a NASPA fellow, Tyffany found herself making deep connections with the admissions and transfer counselors. “I gravitated toward the counseling community because they were so supportive and passionate about their calling—and I had mentors whom I will never forget.”
Journey to SMC
After graduation, Tyffany was accepted into the master of science in counseling with a concentration in student development in higher education at Cal State Long Beach. After that, she shared her professional skills, knowledge and abilities at institutions such as Mount San Antonio College, Marymount College, Cal Poly Pomona, Los Angeles Southwest College and Pierce College specifically teaching, counseling and leading various programs. She also served as an assistant director for residential education at the University of Southern California.
But her most consistent dedication has been to SMC. “I started as a part-time faculty member, teaching on Fridays, while spending the rest of the week at my other jobs,” Tyffany says. Amid this busy career, she also earned her doctorate of education (EdD) with a specialization in Community College and Higher Education Leadership from Cal State Fullerton. After that, she landed a tenure full-time counselor position for SMC’s Black Collegians.
“Even as a part-timer, Tyffany was amazing,” says Black Collegians Program Director Sherri Bradford. “She’s always been thinking of ways to make a positive impact on students’ lives.” Tyffany also puts those thoughts into action by devising programs that benefit both students and faculty — and that can serve as a model for expanding educational equity at other colleges.
Easing Math Anxiety 2
These programs include Math Therapy, a collaboration between Black Collegians and the SMC Latino Center’s Adelante program that eases the anxiety many students feel when dealing with numbers and complicated calculations. Tyffany developed the program with Mathematics Professor Kristin Ross and Edwin Cruz, a math instructional assistant who has since moved on to become an SMC supplemental instruction coordinator.
Together, they would lead sessions blending mindful meditation with success strategies, community based tutoring and teamwork. To develop the meditation exercises, the team turned to SMC’s Center for Wellness and Wellbeing for guidance. In addition, calculators, books, practice exams, lunch, and other study materials were provided.
Another aim is to enable students to see math’s relevance to their daily lives. “I want to help students reimagine math,” Tyffany says, acknowledging that she had her own difficulties with the field as a student. Working with Kristin and Edwin, Tyffany would discuss the different ways math is culturally relevant and used around the world — from the geometrical designs of braiding hair to the calculations used in constructing building.
“Math is everywhere, not just in the classroom,” she observes “We also wanted to ensure Black and Latinx representation leading this program.”
Widening Educational Gateways
As an EGC co-lead, Tyffany helps her fellow professors learn and practice equity mindedness in the classroom. She’s joined with Dr. Chante Deloach, department chair of Psychology, to create Equitizing Gateway Courses (EGC). To date, more than 250 SMC faculty members have taken the four-semester program, which cultivates equity-centered practices to better serve Black and Latinx students.
Tyffany brings in her expertise in student services and counseling to humanize the Black and Latinx student experience inside and outside of the classroom, cultivating a sense of safety and belonging while Chante brings her psychological expertise to foster critical self-reflection, reflexivity and culturally relevant pedagogy. She and Chante have earned SMC’s Instruction Equity Award for this work.
“EGC is the largest professional development program for faculty that SMC has ever implemented—it intentionally addresses redesigning an equitable classroom for our African American and Latinx students, Sherri notes. “The amount of work has been huge, but our campus will forever be changed because of Tyffany’s input and direction.”
Fostering Safety and Belonging Through Meaningful Connections
During the beginning of the pandemic, Tyffany led the development of Direct Connect, a student support navigation portal that offers the hidden curriculum of essential student services and connects students to communities of support and resources that address the holistic student experience related to their personal academic, wellness, cultural and advocacy needs. She also implemented Transitions, an orientation program for new Black Collegians students that emphasizes community building, direct connections to key departments including academic counseling, financial aid and career services.
As Tyffany designs and helps lead future initiatives, she plans to support creating safe spaces for Black and Latinx students across campus. “My counseling and teaching background — along with my EGC leadership experience — I believe will cultivate meaningful engagement outside of classroom to foster safety and belonging.”
Sherri, who currently oversees Tyffany’s work, expects her leadership at SMC to continue growing. “I need her to be my boss,” Sherri says. But what’s really important, according to Tyffany, “is continue planting seeds that produce intentional and transformational change to move racial equity forward.”
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