The Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion – The Year in Review: Director Jason Barquero

Pam Sornson, JD

The Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion (RGFC) launched in May of 2019 in a new building designed specifically to house career-focused programs under the leadership of Pasadena City College’s Economic and Workforce Development division (PCC EWD). The vision of the RGFC is to provide wrap-around services to PCC’s students as they select and pursue their job and career options. The college has already invested significant time and resources into building up the resources of the Center, and its new Director, Jason Barquero, is excited to build out new services and opportunities on that now year-old infrastructure.

Although relatively new to his role as director of the Center, Barquero is not in the least bit new to his role as a leader in career development for college students. Having studied at several Southern California higher ed schools, he’d personally experienced a variety of school-based ‘career development’ strategies. In his career as a college administrator, he’s contributed to the development of several more in his role as Executive Director of the Career Center at the Otis College of Art & Design. He was tapped to lead the RGFC because he brought with him such a deep understanding of both the needs of its student clientele and of the resources needed to slingshot their occupational futures. The timing couldn’t have been more advantageous: The Center was approaching its first anniversary and needed someone in charge who would be able to harness all the educational and occupational values that it represents.


RGFC – One Year In

When he arrived in April 2020 (more about that later), Barquero found the RGFC primed to move forward in developing job and career-focused resources for PCC students and the businesses that would hire them:

The school’s programs were already designed to support career-focused learning. PCC organizes its programming into six ‘Career Communities,’ each centered on a specific industry. Building connections within those industries would only enhance the school’s existing educational strategy.

Many of the faculty were already incorporating ‘work-based learning’ (WBL) into their curricula, in the form of field trips, workshops, and other un-classroom activities.

Partnerships had been established with many area businesses, and those were robust in developing deeper and broader opportunities for growth.

And there were already significant counseling and advising teams in place. Resources were available so students could explore career preferences, create resumes, and practice interviews while still in college.

Barquero liked that the educational strategy of the College and its Career Center were so far along in just one year.

He also liked the PCC culture and how it, too, embraced and applauded the ‘education for career’s sake’ mentality. The school’s Board of Trustees and its partner, the philanthropic Pasadena City College Foundation, had already invested in both academic resources (a comprehensive, enlightened faculty) and a physical facility (the Center itself). These investments were, in themselves, a testament to their commitment to PCC students and the communities from which they come. With that level of support in place, Barquero recognized that many of the traditional barriers to high-quality, career-focused learning simply did not exist on the Pasadena City College campus. He was ready to roll from day one.


The Coronavirus as a Motivator

As noted above, Barquero joined the school just as the state implemented its COVID-19 ‘safer at home’ mandate. While he had expected to come to school each day and work within the bustling halls of the Freeman Center, now he was working from home (WFH), with staff and colleagues who were new to him, and a student body he has yet to meet. Was he deterred in his enthusiasm for his new job? No. It turns out that just the opposite is true.

Much of Barquero’s work before PCC was in developing technology resources, so he was already familiar with video conferencing, virtual field trips, and other digitally enhanced learning experiences. Whatever resources PCC now has in the way of technology to assist with learning, Barquero is already comfortable with, and he has previously worked through the bugs and challenges that those might present to a less experienced tech-based educator. At the same time, the Center also has on staff a dedicated Work-Based Learning (WBL) Manager, Jacqueline Javier (more on her in a separate article), so at least one role on his foundational team was already filled. From his perspective, the first year of the RGFC had been very well spent.


Maximizing Present Opportunities

Further, rather than being daunted by the WFH requirement, Barquero has determined that he will spend this time inventorying and rallying all the resources available now at PCC. He will also be strategizing a future for the school that will provide a stable and comprehensive learning environment regardless of this or other pandemics (or any other disaster that might come along).

And he has an enlightened perspective about how that future might look:

In just his short time with PCC, Barquero continued with the on-going transition of all of the Center’s workshops to a digital format, so none of those resources are either wasted or sitting idle. After a brief lull, while students found their way back to their now virtual school, they began signing up in droves, with attendances in these virtual classrooms quickly filling up. The process reveals more than just an uptick in student numbers; it also generates student engagement data that will inform PCC’s metrics counters.

These virtual learning situations don’t close the classroom, either; they extend it into the world where learners want to work. The students are learning not just their school lessons (faculty members are on board, as well, and present their course work through the same digital portals), but also the technical skills that will enhance their value to future employers.

Barriers are falling, too, as the technology levels the societal playing field that has, for so long, impeded the progress of community college attendees. Students who may have missed field trips or other course-related opportunities because of transportation or family demands can now attend virtually from home, along with all of their classmates. These experiences are especially helpful for first-generation college attendees, who may be seeing, for the first time, a world that was worlds away for their parents.


Looking Ahead to the Next Year and Beyond

Barquero is equally excited about how technology and forward-thinking will engage the business community and PCC’s alumni community, both of which he sees as much more significant players in the school’s future. He plans to expand his outreach into these communities using the same technologies he now employs with his student clients.

In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic is helping Barquero by giving him the time he needs to formulate these ideas and plans, as well as the strategies he’ll pursue to implement them. He’s grateful for that opportunity, as well as for the fact that Pasadena City College was so foresighted when it designed and launched its Career Center just a year ago.

According to Jason Barquero, one year after its launch, the Robert G. Freeman Center for Career and Completion is not only well-founded, but its also well poised to provide its students with a bustling and prosperous future for years to come.


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