The Heights

Updated: December 19, 2016

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Umoja Learning Community offers a more personal and meaningful education

Make your college experience more meaningful by joining Foothill College’s newest learning community: the Umoja Community at Foothill College. An innovative instructional opportunity for all students, Umoja groups English, communication, and psychology courses in a three-quarter program. Students are admitted to the program each fall, and progress through the academic year as a learning community cohort.

Meet Umoja Students, Faculty & Staff on September 21
Learn more about Umoja and its exciting curriculum, and meet Umoja faculty and counselors at an orientation on Wednesday, September 21, from 2 to 5 p.m. in Room 5419 at the Foothill campus in Los Altos Hills.

Now offered at more than 30 California community colleges, and expected to exceed 50 campuses during 2017, the Umoja Community provides courses that promote learning about African and African-American culture, comprehensive student support programs, on- and off-campus enrichment activities, and a safe place for students to discuss real issues that affect them and the broader community. “We believe that when the voices and histories of students are deliberately and intentionally recognized, the foundation for academic success is formed,” says Foothill Umoja Co-coordinator and English Instructor Samuel White, M.A. “We actively promote student success for all students through a method of curriculum and instruction that is responsive to the legacy of the African and African-American diasporas.”

White says that students who tend to get the most out of the Umoja learning community are those who generally prefer to work with a group of peers, and want to become active, responsible, and conscious learners.

Umoja also helps students develop a sense of pride, ownership and responsibility in their own speaking and writing. The program coordinators see this as vital, given the low numbers of African-Americans who live, work and study in Silicon Valley. The Umoja Community wants to educate students who may not be aware of the contributions of the black community. “Engaging in the practice of sharing historical importance enables students to experience language as power,” says Foothill Umoja Co-coordinator and English Instructor Kimberly Escamilla, M.A. “As Umoja faculty members, we are in a unique position to share our stories and our experiences to humanize our classroom instruction. Doing so helps us create an environment that gives our students the confidence to participate in deep learning and share their individual stories and life experiences.”

By emphasizing a distinct history created by their predecessors, students enrolled in the Umoja Program study a variety of literary contributions from various authors, such as Phillis Wheatley, David Walker, Malcolm X, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robert Johnson, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes, Desmond Tutu, Barack Obama, and other trendsetters, artists and intellectuals.

Umoja courses provide students with the opportunity to not only discuss issues that are relevant to the African-American experience, but students are encouraged to critically analyze these issues. As an example, students who enroll in Foothill’s four-unit ENGL 12: African-American Literature course read Malcolm X’s speech, The Ballot or the Bullet, which, when written in 1964, demanded deliberate action on the part of America’s black citizens. Students write about the implications of Malcolm’s call to action; they also conduct research to determine how similar calls to action are issued today, and the associated implications on present-day society, White says.

To support students, the program prioritizes the powerful one-to-one relationship of the Umoja student and the Umoja counselor. Data suggest that a major reason that students drop out of college is that they have experienced isolation or alienation. “To combat dropping out, each student works with a dedicated Umoja counselor to develop realistic, attainable academic and career goals,” says Foothill College Umoja Academic Counselor Tracee Cunningham, M.A. “The unique relationship between a student and a counselor can often provide the encouragement and motivation that a student needs to remain committed to achieving his or her goals.”

To further enhance the student experience, the Umoja Community features a dedicated study and social space on campus. Also significant to the program are Umoja’s recently signed pathways to transfer agreements with the University of California system and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Umoja courses that will be presented during the 2016–2017 academic year include:

Fall Quarter 2016

  • COMM 4: Group Discussion and
  • ENGL 1A: Composition & Reading or
  • ENGL 110: Introduction to College Writing or
  • ENGL 209: Introduction to College Reading

Winter Quarter 2017

  • ENGL 12: African-American Literature and
  • ENGL 110: Introduction to College Writing or
  • ENGL 1A: Composition & Reading

Spring Quarter 2017

  • PSYC 22: Psychology of Prejudice and
  • ENGL 1A: Composition & Reading or
  • ENGL 1B: Composition, Critical Reading & Thinking through Literature
  • MATH 220: Elementary Algebra (optional)

For more information about Umoja, visit To schedule free English and math placement tests, visit To schedule an appointment with Umoja Counselor Tracee Cunningham before September 21, e-mail

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