The Heights

Updated: December 19, 2016

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Foothill receives prestigious statewide diversity award

Foothill College’s Family Engagement Institute was named a recipient of the prestigious Dr. John W. Rice Diversity & Equity Award on July 19, 2016. The award, established in 2001, honors community college staff members, districts, colleges or programs that have made the greatest contribution toward faculty, staff and student diversity and equity.

The Family Engagement Institute (FEI) has been making a critical difference in the lives of underserved students and their families since its inception in 2010 as a unique cradle-to-career initiative at Foothill College. The program provides educational opportunities to underserved and low-income families, while offering professional development to educators and providers to promote school and workforce readiness, family engagement and pathways to postsecondary education.

Betsy Nikolchev, FEI’s executive director, says she is driven to expand the partnership with Foothill and the community to ensure educational opportunities for all families. Nikolchev began her career as an elementary school teacher. She now has more than 30 years as an administrator and FEI is the continuation of her life’s work to develop and support a comprehensive approach to increasing access to education.

“When you include families in the process of accessing and engaging with education, you get better outcomes from students,” Nikolchev said. "That understanding is the basis for all of FEI’s work."

At the core of the Family Engagement lnstitute is a belief that in order to break the cycle of poverty, educational opportunities must begin early for children and continuing education opportunities must be offered to families. With that in mind, the Family Engagement lnstitute provides education materials, toolkits and college faculty to deliver developmentally, culturally and linguistically responsive programs to its partner organizations, where families enroll as community college noncredit students.

Angie Cortés had a career in dental assisting for 17 years. Because of her son’s involvement in Stretch to Kindergarten, she enrolled in FEI’s parenting course and became interested in early childhood education. Inspired by the FEI staff, she returned to school and earned a certificate from Foothill College’s Child Development Program. 

“The beauty of the Family Engagement Institute is that there is something for everyone,” Cortés said, looking back, “And as a program, they meet people where they are. The staff and faculty, as well as every participant, helps create a community where there is always someone to help when there’s a problem.” 

The Dr. John W. Rice Diversity & Equity Award is named for a former member of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. 

“It is a great honor to support the annual Dr. John W. Rice Awards and recognize the achievements in promoting diversity and equity throughout the California Community Colleges," said Keetha Mills, president and CEO of the Foundation for California Community Colleges. "The California Community Colleges is the most diverse system of higher education in the nation, and the three programs we celebrated today are tremendous examples of the systemwide commitment to promoting access for all."

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