We’re thrilled to welcome Jen Juras as Mount Tamalpais College’s new Chief of Institutional Effectiveness and Research. We asked Jen a few questions to learn more about her background, professional and personal interests, and approach to research and evaluation.
What drew you to this position?
This role is the perfect blend of my experience, interests, and skills. Back in Michigan, I worked in criminal and juvenile justice reform research and advocacy, and for the past five years here in California, I’ve worked in higher education institutional research. They fit together so perfectly—I never thought that would exist.
What values and interests drive your work as a leader and researcher?
I’m really attracted to Mt. Tam’s mission of bringing high quality education to all people incarcerated in San Quentin [State Prison]. I think education is a right and an important tool to help people reach their goals and have a voice in their communities. It’s a mission that I can really get behind and that I’m excited about.
How do you plan to approach your work over the coming year?
There’s a lot to be done for accreditation so that’s a big focus right now. It’s actually nice that it’s happening that way because it provides extra guidance and support around setting up a really effective and comprehensive system of assessment. I’m looking forward to creating systems for assessment and evaluation in partnership with other staff and faculty.
What work are you most excited to dive into?
I’m really looking forward to engaging Mt. Tam’s students in the assessment process. In my past, I did a lot of participatory action research and participatory evaluation with both youth and adults. I think engaging stakeholders and having them be a part of the process to make sure we’re asking the right questions and that we’re going about collecting the strongest data is very important. They [students] can help interpret the results and decide what they mean, and help figure out the ‘So what?’ ‘What do we do to address what we found?’ ‘What actions do we take?’ ‘How do we improve the program?’ To me, that’s the most exciting part of research and evaluation and I’m really looking forward to doing that at Mount Tam College.
How will your work support the ongoing improvement of Mount Tamalpais College? How will it enhance student success?
For all research and evaluation, the idea is that you’re engaged in a cycle of gathering information so that you can set goals, gathering data to figure out if you’re meeting your goals, collecting additional information to figure out why or why not, and then making course adjustments. Part of that process is just making sure you have data to know if you are being successful.
A question for Mount Tam is: what does student success mean? In more traditional colleges, a typical marker of student success is first-year retention—how many of the students who enrolled one fall return the following fall—but obviously that doesn’t work for us. Another one is time to graduation. That also doesn’t work perfectly for this population; from what I understand, it would be difficult for our students to take a full-time course load of 12-15 credits. So student success is going to look different…I think it’s going to have to incorporate learning what the goals are of particular students involved and not just tying to degree completion, but also tying to whether students are getting what they need to accomplish their own personal goals.
What are your interests outside of work?
I love trail running, especially long distance mountain trail running in other countries. I have a couple of friends I like to sign up for adventure races with—we like to sign up for things that scare us a little bit. One of my favorite races was a marathon that started at Mount Everest base camp. That was really challenging and scary and exhilaratingly fun. I did another marathon with a friend that went along the Inca Trail route to Machu Picchu. I love the process of signing up for something that scares me a little bit and figuring out a plan to prepare to get there to do it.