Regina Suitt is the Vice President for Adult Basic Education for College & Career at Pima Community College.
In this interview she shares details about her journey from an adult education teacher to leader in the field.
What is your current title and role?
I am the Vice President of Adult Basic Education for College and Career at Pima Community College (in Tucson, Arizona). I also have additional programs reporting to me including developmental education and testing and placement.
What are some of your day-to-day activities as a VP?
I build relationships at the local, state and federal level including partnerships with the workforce development and business communities.
In my interactions I spend a great deal of time talking about the importance of advocacy and sharing the formula for good advocacy—stories, relationships and good data.
I also spend time analyzing data to track our outcomes and support the internal and external marketing we do for the program—all of it to make sure that everyone knows adult ed is the best thing on earth.
I am also a member of various committees, but through all of this work, I’m selling them on the value and importance of our students and what we do.
What services and classes does the Adult Basic Education program offer?
We have adult education and GED classes at our six campuses and literacy and education centers around Tucson.
Pima offers GED testing at the downtown campus and we recently built a double-capacity room to accommodate testers. We also have two satellite locations (far north and east).
We serve about 3,000 GED students a year and that makes up about 60% of our program.
We also offer the GED Promise Scholarship, it awards one tuition-free year of college to any GED graduate from Pima County.
Could you tell us more about how you got your start in adult education?
Nobody starts in adult ed on purpose, we all get in adult ed in some sideways-interesting-story kind of way. My family lived in Arizona for many years before moving back to Iowa. I knew I always wanted to return to Arizona, so after college I packed my van up and moved back. I started off as a high school English teacher at Tohono O’Odham High School through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
During that time I was looking for extra money, saw a flyer and started teaching GED classes at night. I loved it—the students wanted to be there. Many of them had worked all day but were still motivated to come to class. I was then on a quest to find a full-time job teaching GED classes.
I quit my high school teaching position and moved to Tucson, there I worked three part-time jobs and was basically teaching out of my trunk. I then found out about a part-time job at the Pima County Adult Detention Center. I always found that I connect to people from different backgrounds, often those that others don’t think of, and I felt like the job would be a good fit for me. I started off part-time and it turned into a full-time position.
How did you make the transition into leadership?
At the detention center, I took on the role of lead instructor for eight years before becoming the Program Coordinator and Manager of Community Programs, then the Director of Adult Education Services and now my role as Vice President—all under Pima Community College.
Even as a teacher I wanted the college to see us as equivalent and equal. Some years that was harder than others but our new chancellor came in office in 2013 and treated us (adult educators) like superstars from day one. He felt that we should be acknowledged at the same level as other programs and I became VP in 2013.
What keeps you inspired and passionate about the field of adult education?
I am a product of adult education. My mom was an immigrant to the United States and a single parent. She went through naturalization to become a citizen and learned English.
As an administrator you have to hire people who have it in their heart and soul that students are number one. I also make time to personally engage with students by helping them learn how to advocate for themselves.
What are some of the current challenges in adult education?
Funding will consistently be a challenge for education, no educational system is safe. I don’t see 100 percent funding support happening in my career so we have to advocate for the funding levels we need.
On a national scale we need funding for more career full-time teachers. At Pima one reason we can be innovative is because we are able to hire full-time teachers. We are 40% full-time, I wish we could be 100% but like many programs we rely on part-time instructors. We do make sure our part-time teachers get the same professional development and opportunities as the full-time staff.
Could you talk to us more about your advocacy work and student training?
I inherited student ambassador training, it was something we always did here at Pima. There was always a need to advocate for money and resources.
I was chair of the COABE policy committee and we realized COABE needed to do ambassador training. They wanted student involvement and adopted the program. We had to make it sustainable with the understanding that we couldn’t go to every state and we’re now up to 20 states.
We know student advocacy works because it has helped bring back funding twice in Arizona.
Legislators zone-in on student stories and they are the most powerful tool for advocacy that we have. One of the benefits of advocacy is that the public is more aware of what the adult education system is and its importance.
What’s next for you at Pima Community College?
I am retiring in December 2019, I feel like I’m leaving on a high note. I have a deep bench of educators that are ready to take over.
I will still be doing work in adult education and I will be able to do more advocacy outside of my current role in retirement.
What are your tips for adult educators?
The best teachers make their students feel like they didn’t do anything wrong and they are just happy you’re here now. They welcome learners to their classroom with acceptance, no judgement and make them feel included and supported.
Don’t get overwhelmed with all the resources that are available. Pick three or four you like and stick to that. Often as administrators we offer too many and we’re disconnected from what is actually useful for individual instructors.
I would also say don’t expect to know everything, it’s not possible and it’s not an expectation of you.