An Unexpected Career Path
“There’s nothing traditional about my career path,” says Melissa Moreno.
In college, Melissa was a cultural anthropology major.
She was very interested in ethnomusicology, and was accepted into a doctoral program.
Instead, she went to law school.
“I felt pressure to pursue something more ‘practical,’” Melissa says.
After earning her JD, Melissa had a twenty-plus-year career in business, as an attorney and real estate broker.
Today, she is Dean of Educational Programs at Santa Barbara City College in California.
“I always kept one foot in academia,” Melissa says, “because it’s what really feeds my soul.”
Knocking On Opportunity’s Door
Melissa joined the SBCC team in 2007.
“I knocked on their door asking to teach business law,” she says.
Instead, she was hired to launch the Scheinfeld Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.
The Center trains entrepreneurs through a combination of coursework, internships, no-cost consulting, and networking opportunities.
“It was a great fit for my background and skills,” Melissa says. “It was an exciting, entrepreneurial project I just had a ball with.”
“And I’ve been here ever since.”
From Director to Dean
The Scheinfeld Center was a big win for SBCC, Melissa says.
“It became a national, award-winning program, and a model for other community colleges.”
After working as the Center’s program director for several years, Melissa applied to become a Dean of the College.
“At that point in my career in academia, it was a natural next step,” she says.
A Second Success
Melissa’s first assignment as Dean was to create what is now the Career Skills Institute.
The Institute offers online courses in career skills like business, design, and technology.
Students who complete the courses receive certificates in the form of digital badges they can display on their LinkedIn pages, Facebook profiles, or email signatures.
“Displaying digital badges on your online profiles is a great way to give potential employers a more complete picture of your skill set,” Melissa says.
Help From a Pioneer
While she was developing the Career Skills Institute, Melissa had help from a pioneer in the field of online learning—Lynda.com co-founder Lynda Weinman.
“We invited her to participate in a speaker series for the Scheinfeld Center” Melissa says. “That’s when she first became an SBCC supporter.”
Since then, Lynda has been very generous with her time and advisory support, Melissa says.
“When someone builds a billion-dollar online learning business, you know they have a finger on the pulse of digital education.”
A Model That Breaks the Mold
Melissa says that during the early stages of development for the Career Skills Institute, there was a change in California law related to how colleges were funded.
“The new rules made noncredit programs very attractive,” she says. “They aren’t traditional, but I still took advantage of the opportunity.”
To get maximum funding from the state, Melissa says, she built all the noncredit educational programming around certificates of completion.
Badges students earn from the Career Skills Institute are digital representations of those certificates.
Another Non-Traditional Choice
Melissa says she did a lot of research about digital badging while designing programming for the Career Skills Institute.
She says she rejected the idea of having a third-party issue badges earned via the Institute.
“SBCC is an accredited institution,” Melissa says. “We’re a known brand. We issue college degrees to students, and I thought it was important that we issue our own badges as well.”
“I’m proud of that decision,” she says, “because the SBCC brand adds value.”
Building Employability Skills, One Badge at a Time
Currently, Melissa says, the Career Skills Institute course catalog includes 44 digital badges.
She says earning a badge is a straightforward process for students.
“Most of the online courses take between eight and sixteen hours to complete,” she says. “And most badges require completion of between two and four courses.”
Developing New Badges Together
Melissa says she spends a lot of time thinking about new digital badges to develop.
When making these decisions, she says she relies on help from the Career Skills Institute Advisory Committee, made up of SBCC faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as local industry employers.
“We meet annually,” Melissa says, “to discuss the immense amount of recent research related to employability skills as well as what local employers identify as skills gaps they see in the community.”
Melissa says her current contract with Acclaim allows for the development of 10,000 badges.
“I don’t know that we’ll hit that, but we’re not slowing down any time soon.”
A Passion That Pays Off
Santa Barbara City College was a co-winner of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
Melissa says she remembers when the school received the award.
“It was well deserved,” she says. “All of our programs are student-centric, addressing critical needs for transfer and career. Our innovative career technical programs specifically focus on job attainment and career ad
vancement, and set students up for success.”
“Winning the award was a validation of that.”
A Risk Well Worth It
Just a few years ago, Melissa says, no one knew if badges were going to take off.
She says she’s very grateful for the support she received from the SBCC faculty and administration during that time.
“In all my roles at SBCC, I’ve felt supremely supported to try new things and be innovative.”
“Sometimes you get a hit, sometimes you get a miss,” Melissa says.
“I think this one is definitely a hit.”