Southwestern Brings Work-Based Learning to the Classroom

Work Based Learning Banner from Southwestern College
Work Based Learning Banner from Southwestern College

Even before the pandemic crippled many industries, Southwestern College faculty understood they needed ways to apply classroom content in professional settings to help students gain real-world experience,

Known as Classroom to Career, a team of Work-Based Learning faculty reached out to employers to hear directly from them how professors could prepare students for employment. Armed with national data that students felt unprepared for the workforce and employers feeling the same way, Southwestern’s team defined what work-based learning tools, resources and experiences they could incorporate into the classroom. Those tools included workplace tours, industry presentations, job shadowing, service learning, internships and many more.

A boost of $250 million in state funding also helped all California community colleges make career readiness a reality. 

“Community colleges are a driver for the workforce, and that is why this investment focuses on linking our higher education and gainful employment,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “We have to do better in this space. 

“Many people argue about the validity of a degree, at the end of the day it is about getting a job, especially in this economy,” Newsom said. “We have to connect what is happening in our workforce to what we are educating. There are no substitutes for high-road training, partnership programs and work-based learning. Work-based learning is foundational and essential.” 

At Southwestern, faculty hope to enhance student motivation, retention and academic success. They are helping students define their career goals by giving them practical experience that help with in-demand technical skills and career competencies.

Southwestern College Professor Cindy Pangelinan understands that it often takes students looking at careers from a variety of angles.

“I enjoy giving my students access to new information and other ways of learning because a textbook can only teach them so much,” Pangelinan said. “Incorporating work-based learning in the classroom I feel like my students are more equipped to make the best decision for them. My career story was not so linear, and most of the time it almost never is. These methods help show my students that there is more than one way to reach a goal and eventually they will find their place.”

One very successful strategy for Southwestern College faculty and students has been internships. A 2017 Job Outlook Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed 91% of employers prefer candidates with work experience. The study also showed more than half of the interns were offered full-time positions from their internship site. 

That was true for Liza Evanovich, Owner of Fitness Quest in San Diego. 

“The internship program at Southwestern is really well-rounded,” Evanovich said. “The students learn from the bottom up. They have the solid foundation from their school work, and when they come into this internship, they get the hands-on learning that is really invaluable to their careers. They leave the program confident.” 

Jeremy Gonzales, a health student at Southwestern College, was one of those students who got a job after his internship. 

“I didn’t know what work-based learning was,” Gonzales said. “All I knew was that I needed to take this class to get my national certification as a personal trainer, and Southwestern offered this internship program that would help me get that. 

“I didn’t realize that it was this beneficial,” he said. “I was surprised. I got a lot more out of it than I thought I would. The classes were really good, but I am talking about end experience. I walked out of this internship with a full-time job, benefits, everything.”

Jeremy Gonzales, a graduating intern from Southwestern's internship program, working with a client at Fitness Quest.
Jeremy Gonzales, a graduating intern from Southwestern’s internship program, working with a client at Fitness Quest.

The Work-Based Learning (WBL) team at Southwestern College hopes that all educators can create success stories like Jeremy in their classrooms. Work-Based Learning is one of the few innovations attempting to seriously engage multiple aspects of teaching and learning within the demands of social, economic and educational systems.  

WBL is hoping to provide the opportunity for fundamental change within existing practices and new possibilities within the post- secondary educational system.  WBL utilizes many diverse methods of instruction, but prominent among them is the use of learning teams, action projects and other interpersonal experiences that encourage learning dialogue and problem solving. 

Brandi Bass, a WBL education coordinator at Southwestern, said offering a variety of teaching methods helps strengthen the overall educational experience for students.

Learning can indeed happen in the classroom, but harnessing the power of learning within multiple contexts has a much bigger impact on the way students connect to the class material,” Bass said. “It’s crucial that we as postsecondary educators recognize the benefits of this type of learning so that we can give our students the best opportunity for success when they are ready to enter the workforce.”

Southwestern’s WBL faculty are always looking to expand the number of business partners willing to support students, and recruiting more faculty to embrace these strategies. For more information, contact Brandi Bass at