By Tina Gridiron, originally published in the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of Equity & Access
In my first five months as the newly appointed vice president for ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning (Center) it has been an honor to join the great work of ACT’s 60-year history and partner with colleagues from all around the world to continue building toward ACT’s future success. As a mission driven nonprofit organization, dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success, ACT is trusted in the arena of college and career readiness. And, as a unit within ACT, the Center seeks to strengthen, deepen, and extend that trust by promoting tools, programs, policies, systems, and organizational efforts designed to address the challenges and barriers impeding opportunity and success.
Specifically, the Center harnesses ACT’s commitment to holistic success and the organization’s long-standing dedication to opportunity and inclusivity, in order to fight for fairness and success for diverse racial, ethnic, income, and accessibility groups. In short, the Center engages with aligned stakeholders to eradicate deep-seated racial and income injustices in our current education and workforce ecosystems and is intentional in designing solutions with equity in mind.
As an African American woman who is unapologetically committed to education, service, and equity, joining ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning has been an unexpected gift where my personal passion has joined seamlessly with professional opportunity. Some may call it serendipity and others may call it luck. But, whatever the spark, through the Center’s efforts to address systemic opportunity gaps and success barriers, I have been given the opportunity to advance programs and strategies designed to affect real change in the lives of students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.
As the Center elevates research, builds coalitions, and supports programs that consistently contribute to student success, we champion large scale efforts which mirror the meaningful supports that mentors, colleagues, and friends have given me throughout my education journey. The Center serves as a collaborator and bridge builder across all of ACT, strengthening and enhancing ACT’s long-standing commitment to equity in the design, development, and implementation in all that we do. In short, the Center brings the heart of ACT’s mission to life as we strive to help all individuals achieve their education and workforce goals and dreams.
Without question, as ACT continues to grow, evolve and mature, future generations of individuals from low-income communities, Black/African American learners, Latinx learners, individuals who are the first in their family to seek postsecondary education, and individuals with exceptional abilities, among others, will be supported to realize their dreams.
A prime example of how the Center consistently engages in efforts designed to increase student success can be seen in the many years of support and collaboration that the Center has enjoyed with Excelencia in Education, Univision, and the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS). With each collaboration, the Center has systematically addressed sinkholes along the education pathway that disproportionately affects Latinx students.
In particular, the Center has promoted data-infused strategies to fill holes in the education pathway and has partnered with others to fortify the road to success for future generations of students. Through the Center’s support for Excelencia’s Growing What Works database and the Examples of Excelencia program, along with our support for other effective college preparation, access, and completion strategies such as Univision’s parent fairs and social media engagements, and our commitment to growing a community of highly prepared Latinx leaders through the ALAS Superintendents Leadership Academy, we have placed a high emphasis on advancing strategies that matter and have made common cause with those committed to Latinx student success.
In similar fashion, when addressing the education challenges and promoting the education success of Black and African American students, over the years the Center has turned to leaders like Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy (dean and professor of Education in the School of Education at American University) and Clayborn Carson (professor of History at Stanford University and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute) to better understand the current realities facing Black students’ success and ensure that we are considering strategies for system improvements.
Each leader we have worked with has provided insightful perspectives on the complex reasons behind the roadblocks and speed bumps along the education and workforce pathways traversed by Black and African American students, while artfully outlining the creative strategies needed to overcome and eliminate each barrier. Whether through the promotion of self-efficacy, improvements in the cultural competence of school counselors, and/or the dual power of peace and justice efforts, each leader has challenged our thinking and our assumptions. Through their research and advocacy, we are reminded that while change is never easy, it is always necessary if we seek to improve.
ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning was launched in 2016 and strives to connect ACT’s transformational work in the areas of Learning, Measurement, and Navigation with meaningful equity-focused programs and activities across the education and workforce ecosystem. From its inception, the Center has served as a vehicle for ACT to highlight diverse voices, to collaborate with diverse leaders, and to advance diverse strategies to achieve true impact and change. Over the last 60 years, ACT has established a strong foundation and with each new day the Center builds on that foundation by designing tools and solutions for more equitable and just education and workforce outcomes.
I remain convinced that the systems, policies and programs we design can light each student’s path toward success. All that is needed is a collaborative spirit, a success mindset, and an intentional design with equity in mind. Together, we are stronger. And as we look to the future, the Center is committed to building deeper connections, clearer education pathways, and easy to understand road signs so tomorrow’s students will reach their personal and professional milestones and dreams. A successful design with equity in mind.
Tina Gridiron, Vice President of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, has led grant initiatives as an officer and director for Lumina Foundation where she worked extensively with community colleges, minority-serving institutions and regional comprehensive institutions. She has also served as the acting director of the Black Community Services Center at Stanford University.