What is learned in a classroom shouldn’t stay in a classroom.

Knowledge can help shape a better future for the Asian Pacific Islander American community. At South Seattle Community College (SSCC), the campus offers a one-of-a-kind Associate of Arts degree with an emphasis on Asian Pacific Islander (API) Studies, funded by a $2.4 million dollar grant. Students who are completing the program will graduate with an Associates degree that is transferable to four-year universities within Washington including the University of Washington and Washington State University. The Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI) grant funded SSCC’s program. The campus was one of only eight colleges and universities in the nation awarded. The AANAPISI grant supports student academic success and retention with a special concentration on APIA students. SSCC has allocated the $2.4 million over three years until June 2011.

South Seattle’s API studies program is unique. Instructors of the API program encourage open dialogue on cultural identity that empowers APIA students.

In addition, the Asian American studies course, taught by instructor Robert Dela-Cruz, integrates service learning as part of the class. Dela-Cruz, an English and Asian American Studies instructor, believes that students can use their talents to give back to the community by volunteering at local API non-profits. The API studies program offers the opportunity for both API and non-API students to learn about comprehensive Asian Pacific Islander American history and contemporary issues. The curriculum features a variety of courses including literature, history, anthropology, art and religion. Even a World Music course mentions API contributions and educates students on the depth of the API culture.

When asked why the API studies program was introduced at South Seattle, Dela-Cruz responded that “the college wanted to give the opportunity to students to learn about their own ethnic and cultural history” that was not yet available in the classes offered at South or in the Seattle Community College District.

The program also helps student retention in higher education. Dela-Cruz commented that a student graduating in this program is more competitive than another student who graduates with a general AA degree. An education in one’s own ethnic American history and contemporary issues ingrains a sense of self and understanding of one’s role in the larger scheme of things. This character gives students empowerment as they continue on in higher education, suggests Dela-Cruz.

Doctoral candidate and SSCC visiting instructor, Rochelle Fonoti, taught a Pacific Islander Anthropology course during the 2010 winter quarter. This was the first class of its kind offered in the Seattle community college district. Her hope is that more Pacific Islanders will take advantage of these educational and awareness opportunities.

“We will not be able to make an impact if our children aren’t getting the education,” said Fonoti. She is one of many instructors at South Seattle who are passionate about accessibility of education for all youth. Fonoti is in the process of developing two new courses that are waiting approval by the Seattle Community College District.

Knowledge is learned in the classroom but only activated when applied outside of the class. Such awareness can transform a person and their world. When courses like the API studies program at South Seattle is offered, students have a safe learning environment to share their own cultural experience and learn about history and current issues affecting the their own community. It’s empowerment in action.

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