A Systematic and Faculty-Oriented Approach To Work-Based Learning at Mesa College

Building a Structure for Success

San Diego Mesa College (Mesa) leaders started with a simple goal:  Provide Work-Based Learning (WBL) experiences for every student on campus. Building awareness about the importance of WBL experiences for students and expanding those opportunities with faculty and employers is a major focus of Mesa. Mesa’s WBL team has been progressively building upon existing efforts with strong institutional support from its President and administration. With strong institutional support from the Mesa’s President and administration, and through the committed work of Mesa’s WBL Team, progress is being made to grow these opportunities for students. This team consists of two full-time, tenure track, Work-Based Learning Coordinators (Katlin Choi focused on Service Learning and Shawn Fawcett focused on Work Experience), a part-time Internship Coordinator, Pavel Consuegra, and a faculty Employment Engagement Coordinator, Melanie Baeza-McCray all situated under the instructional umbrella. Mesa deliberately  hired these positions as faculty in order to build trusting relationships with campus faculty and support their existing work integrating WBL into the curriculum.

The WBL team started with a plan for a data driven approach. Over the course of the first year, the team conducted a discovery process that included;

  • data from a WBL inventory identifying where WBL is happening along the continuum of experiences in both CE and non-CE programs,
  • survey results from faculty and students about perception of WBL offerings and needs to support implementation and engagement in WBL, and
  • focus group results identifying needs of employers in connecting with faculty and students to communicate workplace needs.

From these data sources along with best practices in WBL in California and across the country, Mesa’s Work-Based Learning plan was born. They began with an extensive marketing and outreach with faculty that included workshops to build a presence for their team’s expertise and willingness to support. See the full report outlining Mesa’s findings from data collection and lessons learned about its strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. Mesa discovered how to best support their students based on the findings.

Lessons learned so far:

  • Speak the same language: An important first step is identifying a common language across faculty, employers, students and student services professionals. After engaging with stakeholders on this language, Mesa’s WBL team created flyers and other materials that helped reinforce a common understanding of the continuum of WBL experiences.


  • Connect to Career Center: Partnership with the Career Center is key. Establishing an excellent relationship and work flow between the WBL team and Career Services is foundational to their success. The two teams do monthly meetings together, retreats, create joint marketing materials, and partner at events for students, faculty and employers.


  • Start where WBL is already happening: When working with faculty, listen to what they are already doing and build on it. Find the champions and capitalize on their existing success or listen to what they need support with. For example, see the detailed service learning example below.


  • Support faculty by engaging with employers: Since Mesa’s WBL team spent the time to establish themselves as a trusted support to the faculty, they are willing to trust them with their employer contacts. Short on time to facilitate, faculty reported they need support doing outreach to employers and coordinating their integration into the curriculum.


  • Leverage institutional funds: Mesa’s leadership helped to identify and set aside two funding sources to hire highly qualified faculty, classified professionals, and an administrator necessary to develop and implement the WBL plan. Mesa combined general funds with Strong Workforce funding to develop the WBL team.  Other regional grant funding has assisted in growing the team and its functionality.


WBL In Action at Mesa:

Service Learning in English 101

Both CE and non-CE students take English 101, and one requirement of the 101 class is a service learning project in which students identify a community organization to connect with that will help them identify career interests and goals. Many students get this assignment and have no idea where to start  and map out the experience and the paper they will write at the end. The English 101 instructor was already doing this as part of the course curriculum, but looking for help connecting students with the possible organizations they could align to their interests. One of Mesa’s WBL Coordinator, Katlin Choi, stepped in . Students identified interests through an interest inventory form – developed by the faculty member (e.g., immigration issues, children, animals). Katlin supported students in identifying community organizations in geographic areas that were nearby the student’s home, work, or school. Then, they supported the faculty member in coming into the classroom and help teach students how to backward design; to keep the end in mind as they go through planning process and conceive of their own service learning project. As described above, this kind of curricular support and delivery to students would not be possible if the WBL Coordinators were not part of the instructional staff. Find out more by listening to the voices of two students sharing the value of their service learning experiences.

  • Maria Pandolfo follows her personal interests in veterans services and animals finds the perfect service learning opportunity.
  • Federico Pedrazzani learns about his own interests in a career that allows him to connect with children through his service learning project

Students in the course were surveyed at end of semester and shared that they greatly valued that experience and the support they received. The partnership between Mesa’s WBL team and the English faculty member will continue in future semesters.

Check back in future for more examples of WBL in action at Mesa.