From Bold Vision to Meaningful Results: Ensuring a Work-Based Experience for Every Student

The Art and Science of Culture Change creates a visual, linguistic, and conceptual infrastructure that provides scaffolding for shared transformational journeys and engages practitioners in intellectual fun on the road to innovation and entrepreneurship. Through probing questions that prompt a thoughtful, and at times uncomfortable, exploration of purpose and process, this approach facilitates connecting the dots of innovation and entrepreneurship. The Maricopa Center for Learning and Innovation (MCLI) at the Maricopa Community Colleges district office is using this framework to, as this approach teaches, “catch others doing something right” and shine a light on that work. When MCLI applied the framework to a major change initiative—ensuring a work-based experience (WBE) for every student—at Phoenix College (PC), cultural patterns emerged that support use of innovation and entrepreneurship to improve opportunities for student engagement and success.

Bold Vision

A majority of PC students have reported enrolling in classes to improve their employability or advancement prospects, while employers in the community have articulated their needs for a well-prepared workforce. The PC leadership team committed to a Bold Vision of providing 100 percent of the college’s students with at least one WBE while they are enrolled.
With the opening of the Maricopa Information Technology Institute (ITI) at the college, Maria Reyes, Dean of Industry and Public Service, initiated plans to integrate WBE into all ITI programs and led efforts to secure a $2.4 million National Science Foundation grant for that purpose. The resulting WBE model was designed so it could be replicated across the college to serve all students. Ten types of WBE were identified—apprenticeship, clinical experience, co-op, externship, field experience, internship, job shadowing, preceptorship, research, and service learning—with student participation determined by program and progress. 
WBE allows students to apply their learning and gain experience in real-world job settings while building professional networks, and employers to engage educated student workers who may become new hires. A Bold Vision centering on a collegewide transformation can face challenges from those who are comfortable with the current culture or do not fully understand the purpose or benefits of change. PC’s leadership strived to help all college faculty and staff learn about the initiative, their role in it, and its advantages for students and the community.

Shine a Light on the Work of Others

Understanding the importance of recognizing the strengths and talents of the team, PC President Larry Johnson shined a light on the work of others. He recognized Reyes as a leader who “fosters a spirit of innovation and growth mindset and has galvanized colleagues to prepare our students for transfer and careers through work-based experiences.” As catching each other doing something right becomes an organizational norm, increased goodwill and well-being can contribute to a healthy workplace poised for collaboration and engagement.

Everyone Is Invited: Student, Employee, and Community Engagement 

The ITI WBE program intentionally reached out early to potential internal and external collaborators to involve students, employees, and community partners, thus bridging traditional silos with an everyone-is-invited approach. ITI WBE connected college employees and students with the district office and community partners such as City of Phoenix, Black Chamber of Arizona, and Greater Phoenix Economic Council. PC leadership continues to leverage resources and interest among individuals and organizations with complementary goals. 

Toes, Turf, Control, and Credit

Endeavors that challenge existing systems often run into toes, turf, control, and credit issues. ITI WBE is built on internship and service learning models at peer colleges, Estrella Mountain Community College and Chandler Gilbert Community College, and on guided pathways and other ongoing work at PC and the district office. PC leadership transparently honored the contributions of others, finding that a clear understanding of student and community benefits opened minds to change. 

Integrative, Integrated, Sustainable, Scalable Programming

According to Reyes, “Even with the . . . grant, we have limited resources and a large community to serve so it’s important that our program design is integrative, integrated, sustainable, and scalable. We can’t afford to design in silos.” ITI WBE’s design contributes to college and district visions and ensures sustainable and scalable programming, which supports the college teams’ heightened awareness of the need to provide value to students and the community.

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone: Action and Learning

The size and scope of this project took members of the PC team outside their comfort zones, but their bias toward action ensured working through obstacles and learning together to expand relevance in the student experience. Reyes explained, “Just as the students we serve are often taken outside their comfort zone in the experiences we offer them, our paths toward innovation and more entrepreneurial outcomes require new action and learning from us, too.” One strategy that helped everyone clearly see themselves in the overall, collegewide vision was creating common WBE language for use in all messaging for students, educators, employers, and community partners and in outreach materials to stakeholders about engagement opportunities.

One Thing Leads to Another: Inclusion and Meaningful Results

Although work experiences have been available in various programs at PC—involving, for example, 2,414 students in 2018-2019 and 3,031 in 2019-2020—they have been isolated within departments. ITI advanced progress toward PC’s 100-percent goal, including diverse groups in developing the WBE model and sharing it across the institution so all programs have WBE and all students have the opportunity to enhance skills in workplace settings. Ultimately, one thing leads to another and ITI WBE has become an innovative and entrepreneurial endeavor already achieving meaningful results for PC students. 

Caron Sada

Residential Psychology Faculty, Paradise Valley Community College, and works with Innovation and Entrepreneurship programming at MCLI, Maricopa Community Colleges


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The word Zeitgeist represents the spirit of the times and the prevailing ideas and beliefs as society moves forward. As we look to the new decade and beyond, how can we lead the Zeitgeist on our campuses and better serve our students, colleagues, and communities? Club Zeitgeist, or Club Z, is designed to help bring about positive organizational change while delivering student success through experiential learning for students, employees, and community members.

Available to any college campus, Club Z includes regularly scheduled gatherings for Z Social Incubation and turnkey initiatives such as the Z Achievement Award. Implementation of the Club Z pilot at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) in Phoenix, Arizona, has gained national attention for student engagement, with more than 300 students earning the Club Z Achievement Award.

The Z Achievement process includes students creating and implementing a project individually or as part of a team, followed by the completion of ten reflective questions about their experience. Students can engage in any type of project of interest to them, such as service learning, civic engagement, the arts, research, and social entrepreneurship. At PVCC, students who complete the process receive an award certificate and are eligible for additional prizes funded through the Z Connect Program and Scholarship Fund.

In addition to Club Z gatherings and Z Achievement Awards, examples of initiatives include Z Imagine Pitch (an interdisciplinary pitch contest), Share Z Love (a recruitment and exhibit event), Z-Imaginary Makerspace (a recruitment and social incubation event), and Social by Design (an approach to leading change initiatives for college administrators). These activities are designed to give all campus stakeholders new experiences that inspire innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in action—the culture of a thriving makerspace even if we find ourselves in a board room.

PVCC students learn about the Z Achievement Award.

How is Club Z innovative? The following design features differentiate Club Z from many other campus initiatives:

1. The startup of Club Z and its programming can be initiated from anywhere in the organization, allowing talent to come forward regardless of role or title (although leadership buy-in and influence are needed for ultimate scaling).

2. Club Z programming can be infused throughout the organization for students, employees, and community members.

3. Club Z represents an intentional culture with shared concepts such as “Shine a Light on the Work of Others” and “Everyone is Invited!”

4. Students, employees, and community members can engage in person or virtually through a variety of strategically connected experiences. This facilitates inclusion and deeper engagement over time.

5. Club Z represents both traditional causal design and effectual design which creates structure for those who desire a clear path to success while leaving outcomes open for students, employees, and community members to innovate.

6. Club Z demonstrates the Z Design Standard of integrative, integrated, sustainable, scalable programming. This helps overcome silos and creates opportunities for collaboration and leveraging resources without predefined limits.

7. The overall Z Vision is to facilitate positive organizational change while delivering student success. This bottom-line assertion holds that we can become better at what we do while taking action on our highest priorities.

8. Hospitality is built into every Club Z activity to facilitate connections among interested parties. The college hopes that participants leave gatherings feeling that they were meaningful and fun.

Makila Barnes prepares to pitch her idea.

While PVCC was the first college in the Maricopa County Community College District to implement Club Z, all ten colleges and the district office now have Z-Legacy Ambassadors, or individuals who self-identify as wanting to create and implement innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities throughout the system. This group has been brought together by Dr. Shari Olson, President of South Mountain Community College, who held an open call throughout the district. Dr. Olson’s approach is consistent with Z Philosophy: Anyone with an interest can engage—individuals do not have to be recruited or given permission to do this work based on their title or role within the organization.

As we move into the future, with new challenges and opportunities, everyone’s talent is needed. And, to better serve our students, colleagues, and communities, it is important that everyone really is invited.

To learn more about the implementation of Club Z and Z Initiatives at Maricopa Community Colleges, or to find out how you can initiate the Z model on your campus, contact Dr. Caron Sada, creator of the initiative, at

Caron Sada

Residential Faculty, Psychology, Paradise Valley Community College


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