PCC Extension: A Gateway to Enriched Living

Pam Sornson, JD

By Pam Sornson, JD

Although not new to Pasadena City College ([PCC] – the program goes back decades under several other names), the PCC Extension program recently transitioned into the fifth Pillar of the school’s Economic and Workforce Development department (EWD). And while also not new to the school (she’s been working at PCC in various roles for years), Director Elaine Chapman, MBA, M.Ed, is delighted with the program’s new placement. In conjunction with the EWD’s other pillars (the Freeman Center for Career and CompletionWork-based Learning, Workforce Training, and its Small Business Development Center), PCC Extension offers extensive learning and growth opportunities for virtually anyone who is looking for an education but not necessarily a certification, degree, or transfer opportunity.


A Gateway, Indeed

According to Chapman, PCC Extension acts as the other side of PCC’s ‘same coin:’ offering learning opportunities to students who aren’t looking for foundational job and occupational training, certification, or degrees. Instead, the program focuses on providing both ‘learning for learning’s sake’ opportunities, as well as upskilling or enhanced training for workers to take back with them immediately to their jobs. In effect, the PCC Extension provides educational and learning opportunities for – literally – everyone and anyone who wants to continue to grow but doesn’t need or want any added credentialing.

The PCC Extension sees its activities as performing two significant functions for the PCC and Pasadena community:

1) Enriching Lives Because Learning is Fun

It offers courses and programs that lift the lives of their learners. Those courses teach the theory, skills, and practices that simply enhance one’s quality of life, including new languages, computer skills, health and fitness perspectives, and many more. Students flock to these programs because they have an innate interest in the subject matter and want to learn more, not to find a job or even to improve their work at the position they hold. They want to study because it offers enjoyment and satisfaction to learn more about those things that one finds attractive.

These students’ backgrounds vary as much as their scope of personal interests:

Some are new to the college experience in general and may never have thought of themselves as a ‘college student.’ The PCC Extension opportunity offers an open option so they can explore the higher ed space without having to make an extensive commitment to something they may not be prepared to manage. Many find the experience so pleasant and encouraging that they choose to continue into new classes or even new career study options.

Others may be community college students or graduates. They have already enjoyed a taste of ‘college life.’ They are looking for a similar experience in a subject matter they enjoy regardless of its capacity to underscore a career option.

Still others (and there are notable examples of this) who have extensive backgrounds and long careers in significant industries who just want to learn how to write a bookunderstand human physiology, or speak Japanese. They sign up because they know the learning will make them happier in their lives overall. (Chapman herself has pursued ‘learning for learning’s sake’ education that taught her more about one of her favorite hobbies.)

The PCC Extension as a learning facility embraces the truth that everyone is (or should be) a life-long learner. It consequently offers those programs that will engage the interests and passions of its life-long learning community.

2) Providing a True “Community Center”

All that learning energy flows the other way, too. As the PCC Extension presents wider learning opportunities, it also attracts more local and regional people to share its resources. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, on-site classes were also places to gather, meet new people who shared the same interests, and explore even more options to expand into a larger community sphere. Through the auspices of the PCC Extension, the community as a whole can unite under PCC’s learning umbrella to learn more about itself, its members, and its resources.

Not insignificantly, many of those who engage with the PCC Extension are both PCC alumni and have enjoyed successful careers. Their continuing participation in the school also encourages their continued support of the school, sometimes through donations made to the PCC Foundation.


How It Works

The PCC Extension also focuses on providing not-for-credit resources that fill working adults’ needs, including self-improvement courses, workforce training, and professional development. And it offers personal interest courses that simply answer a question or respond to an urge to do something new. New parents, newly arrived immigrants, people with disabilities, veterans, and ‘older’ learners are typical students who find through the PCC Extension the information and skills they need to live a better life.

Previously, to facilitate those learners, PCC Extension classes were offered beyond the traditional ‘school day’ – evenings and weekends – so students could attend after conventional school hours. The silver lining around the COVID concern is that almost all of the PCC Extension courses are now also offered online so that learners can access them from anywhere, at any time.

Teaching at PCC Extension

Another valuable asset of the PCC Extension is its instruction staff. Many of its teachers are actually proficient experts at their particular craft who, as individuals, approached the school with a course proposal to share their skills with the student community. Consequently, the instructional corps offers a widely varied menu of program options that aren’t ordinarily available as traditional college curricula. Those opportunities highlight another value of the PCC Extension: it provides learning opportunities taught by subject matter experts that are not available anywhere else in the world except through PCC. The broad scope of these learning options is yet another demonstration of the values provided to the Pasadena community (on-site and virtual) through PCC’s portal.


An ED with Vision

With a career history working in highly regulated organizations and with sensitive populations, Chapman brings a unique skill set to her role as Director of the PCC Extension. She sees the overarching program as a nexus between the community college and its Pasadena-region neighbors, and she’s always looking for ways to extend those relationships. Her passion for connecting anyone interested in learning with resources that interest them is also evident in her association with LERN, an organization dedicated to developing resources and opportunities for continuing education and life-long learning around the world.

In her current role, Chapman is careful to gauge the student population’s needs with the school’s capacity to find the best, most-likely-to-be-successful fit for new classes and new learners. By continuously expanding the course offerings to provide relevant and topical options, she can fulfill otherwise unmet community needs. The computer courses are especially enticing in these days of COVID-induced ‘all online all the time’ demand.

In her opinion, situating the PCC Extension within the EWD enhances both organizations’ capacities – the EWD in general and the PCC Extension specifically – to reach even more constituents and build even more bridges between the school and the people who live near it. As a pillar for the EWD itself, the PCC Extension provides another opportunity to include community engagement in the organization’s overarching work: to develop the systems and partnerships that will drive the Pasadena regional economy forward.

PCC’s Extension program isn’t new, but it isn’t old, either. It is a living, teaching, and learning enterprise that continuously works to enhance all its constituents’ lives. Its position in the EWD IS new, and the EWD itself is unique (just three years old), and that newness also suggests a promise of even bigger and better things to come. For Elaine Chapman, it offers yet another opportunity to continue her personal goal of life-long learning.



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