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Columbia College's

Academic Wellness Educators    

Keeping Us Connected

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Keeping Us Connected                 

Volume 4, Issue 1, September '10


AWEStar of the Month


Twyla Olsen, our September AWEstar has been instructing at Columbia College since 2006 when she taught Introduction to Speech at the satellite site at Oakdale High School. She has been instructing classes in Human Communication, Intercultural Communication and Small Group and Team Communication. Twyla stated, “It would be hard to select my favorite topic in communication because I enjoy them all. In all my research, the number one skill employers are looking for today is good communication skills, then analytical, and team skills. Good communication skills cross all disciplines and prepares students for an engaging academic experience and successful career.”

Twyla Olsen, Speech & Communication Instructor

Twyla Olsen, Speech and Communications Instructor

She also teaches at a private university in Modesto using Blackboard in a blended course that utilizes 3 hours in class and 2 hours online. “I couldn’t imagine instructing a communication class online, but the blended class online is working to enhance analytical and writing skills and the classroom time gives me the opportunity to lecture on the topic and introduce communication skills sets pertinent to the topic," stated Twyla. She also said, “ I believe Columbia College has a unique and supportive environment that I have not found on other campuses.”

At Columbia College, Twyla currently serves on AWE, Habits of Mind, and Professional Development committees. She was recently selected as the Adjunct Representative on the Academic Senate Council.


The last few years have seen an increase in re-entry students returning to local community colleges to gain new skills for the growing competitive workforce. Twyla said, “I find that many students aren’t aware of their learning style or how to effectively use study time. To support students I integrate best practices for retention, adult-learning practices (andragogy), and encourage a learning environment that engages and support student- learning in a variety of styles and skill bases."

“Speech is one of the most stressful courses for many students and they often put it off to the last semester. One of the most rewarding things in teaching speech is seeing students find a voice of strength and courage that they were not aware of previously,” stated Twyla. She also noted, “When I receive feedback from my students, they often identify the classroom environment and structure as the key to their success."

Twyla noted, “I experienced the true power of public speaking as the keynote speaker at my graduation and writing speeches for the President of the College as a graduate student. Words can inspire, encourage, and nurture, as well as, open the minds of the next generations.”

One of her favorite projects, as an USA Communication Consultant, was participating in an International Research Project. She attended training at the Institute of Konflict Management in Zurich, Switzerland and led intercultural training activities in Edinburgh, Scotland. Twyla stated , “Three countries were studying violent behavior by students in school settings and this was early 2000 when many shootings were occurring in American schools.”

Twyla has a repertoire of activities when she is not instructing. She is an artist and has a studio in downtown Sonora, she sings with the Columbia College Jazz Choir and in a jazz duo, and has acted in small historical vignettes in Columbia State Park. She has a daughter Melissa who lives in London, UK and a son Dane who lives in San Jose, CA. She also enjoys travel, reading, and kayaking.



Tutor's Corner





I began tutoring at the Academic Achievement Center in the fall semester of 2009; this semester I am also working as a SI leader for Political Science and Biology. My experience at Columbia has been unique in that it is the first school I have ever attended; I was homeschooled through my high school years. At Columbia, I have had the wonderful opportunity to explore various academic subjects and study under some truly great professors. My interests for a possible major include Political Science, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Biology; I will be transferring to UC Davis in the fall 2011.

Sarah Barnum, AAC Tutor and SI Leader

Sarah Barnum, AAC Tutor and SI Leader

Student success is built upon comprehension of material. In my role as a tutor, as well as my personal learning as a student, I have observed that the students who succeed are those who focus on personal comprehension. The student must seek to understand the subject from his own personal perspective, to take the information as it is given by the professor and put it in his own words. Too often, the words or concepts from a professor can seem to be foreign to the student, like an unknown language. Part of the student’s role is to take the concepts discussed and place them in his own frame of reference, to think about the concepts in terms with which he is familiar. Understanding concepts in his own words—in ways that are familiar to him—is the first step for the student toward a genuine comprehension. Once this has been achieved, the student can now go on to apply the learned concepts to new situations, which is one of the highest levels of learning.

My encouragement to the professors of Columbia is to direct the students to develop their personal understanding of the subject. The classroom environment must continually encourage the student to have an understanding of the subject rather than a simple memorization of the key facts. Challenge us to understand processes rather than simply memorizing what was said in lecture or read in the text; challenge us to know the material and to able to apply it. Someday, we will be the heart surgeons, entrepreneurs, engineers, and professors of tomorrow. As our professors, you are helping to guide us to these positions and succeed in them once we reach them.


Successful On-Ramp


Summer Program



A 10 day program for new and returning students was offered just prior to the start of the Fall Semester.

 August 4th through August 19th


The program included:


CMPSC 198CS - Basic Computer Training taught by Ida Ponder & Kathy Schultz


SKLDV 690 - Study Skills Training taught by Craig Johnston


LIBR 1 - Orientation to the College Library taught by Brian Greene


GUIDE 107 - Orientation to the College taught by Alicia Kolstad


In an effort to assist students with the transition to college, the Columbia College faculty assembled a cadre of courses offered in a cohort model. These courses provided 24 students with skills essential for college success. The program began four weeks prior to the start date for the Fall 2010 semester. The program allowed students to gain necessary skills prior to starting their Fall classes. New students began their educational experience with a basic computer instruction component. Next, they moved on to a study skills course along with a library research course and an orientation to college course.

Plans for the 2011 Summer On-Ramp Program to be held earlier in the summer are underway. This change along with other recommendations based on program participant feedback will  further help students  develop an understanding of graduation requirements and educational planning prior to the Fall enrollment period.  In addition, students would be able to apply for additional support services within timelines which would allow them to have those services in place for the Fall term.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact Adrienne Seegers, Alicia Kolstad, John Leamy, Karin Rodts, Craig Johnston or Melissa Colón. Check out the new AWE Web site home.