Program teaches students new problem-solving strategies

By Juan Calvillo

The Invention and Inclusion Innovation program focuses on problem solving using different disciplines in an inclusive environment and will run through the winter session. 

The program, known as the i3 Program, is funded and was adapted to community colleges by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. The i3 program will provide students with the chance to work with a multidisciplinary group of faculty and staff at East Los Angeles College. 

This team will provide students with direction, but the entirety of the work will be on the student groups created within the cohort. 

Jennifer Alvarado, Business Department Accounting professor, Rita Suarez, librarian and Associate professor in Library Science, Raymond Oropeza , Associate professor in Life Sciences, and Nohelia Canales, Associate professor in Life Sciences, make up the team of faculty who will work with students in the program. Suarez said Alvarado filled out the proposal for ELAC to have the i3 program come to the campus. 

Suarez said ELAC is one of two Los Angeles Community College District colleges that received a grant for the i3 program, the other is West Los Angeles College. 

The 21 community colleges in California included in the i3 program are:

City College of San Francisco

Bay Area Foothill College

Barstow College

Moreno Valley College

Mt. San Jacinto College

Norco College

Palo Verde College

El Camino College

Mt. San Antonio College

East LA College

West LA College

College of the Redwoods

Folsom Lake College

Saddleback College

San Diego Mesa College

San Diego Miramar College

College of the Canyons

Coast Cuesta College

Modesto Community College

Chaffey Community College

Sierra Community College

At ELAC, the program will use activities to jump start students into deciding which critical issues are the most important to them to solve. 

Oropeza said the faculty is there to help, but the real work is being done by students. He said once an issue is targeted by a group of students, the program will use directed activities to encourage students into thinking and developing ways to solve the problem. 

Suarez said the problems students identify are grounded in the community. Students will work towards solving these community based problems and in the process gain a greater connection to the resolution they will generate.

Alvarado said the groups of students will come from different backgrounds and disciplines. She said previous iterations of the i3 program have shown the more diverse the group handling a problem, the more the group goes into researching and sharing information about the problem. 

Alvarado said one of the strengths of ELAC and its students is the amount of diversity on campus. This diversity will be paramount in the program. 

That doesn’t just mean diversity in the members, it means that the faculty group is looking forward to working with students with diverse upbringings, majors and life experiences. These diverse groupings create a more well rounded solution.

“Everybody gets to share their perspective on the problem. They are going to do some research on the problem, spend a lot of time really understanding the problem and what stakeholders say they need, and what they might really mean they need,” Alvarado said.

For the winter cohort, the faculty team is looking for 40 students to work with. These 40 students will be broken up into four groups of 10, with each group focusing on its own problem to solve. 

The idea for forming these groups is diversifying the groupings. Alvarado said the idea is to create the most breadth of thought for analyzing the problems brought up by students. 

Alvarado said one of the problems students can look forward to tackling is centered on human health. She said most of the time, the groups will be focused on understanding a problem because that’s where innovation lies.

“If you go from problem to solution, the solution is often incremental. It’s kind of a grounded idea. But if you [want] to be innovative, to see things that other people don’t see then you really need to understand the problem,” Alvarado said.

LaCandice Ochoa, dean of Workforce and Economic Development at the CCCCO, said across all the colleges participating, that all students are invited to participate in the program. She said women and students of color are encouraged to participate in the program. 

The program has an increased focus on entrepreneurial students no matter what career path they have set for themselves. Students can look forward to sharpening their skills in things like adaptability and teamwork.

Oropeza said students can access information on how to sign-up from the library research articles at Alvarado said there will be no grade point average requirement for attending the cohort. 

The one thing that is needed is for students to be available for the winter cohort sessions for January and the beginning of February. December 10 is the deadline for applications for the pilot program.

Suarez said the i3 program for the winter cohort will be limited by time when it comes to solutions that can be created. 

For the winter, students will have five weeks to work together. The progress for each group will be limited by what they can accomplish. 

She said the team foresees each group being different, with some groups getting to the stage that requires prototypes that have drawings or actual mockups.

“It really depends on the groups and the individual solutions they come up with,” Suarez said.

Ochoa said the i3 program fosters learning through invention and uses the unique perspectives, backgrounds and disciplines from a diverse student group to find unique solutions to problems. 

Ochoa said ELAC students who participate in the program will have the chance to show off their solutions to others as well.

“East Los Angeles College students who participate in the program will be able to share their class project with potential employers to demonstrate real-life, hands-on examples of the skills they built in college,” Ochoa said.

The original idea for the program is focused at the high school level. 

It runs in high schools across Massachusetts, Texas, Oregon and California and was funded by the Lemelson Foundation. In adapting it for the community college environment, the CCCCO connected with the creators of the program, Lemelson-MIT. 

This partnership allowed for the creation of the pilot program the CCCCO created that worked with four colleges in California. 

These colleges included:

Modesto Community College: Modesto, Yosemite Community College District 

Chaffey Community College: Rancho Cucamonga, Chaffey Community College District 

Sierra Community College: Rocklin, Sierra Joint Community College District 

College of the Desert: Palm Desert, Desert Community College District

After the success of the original pilot the i3 program expanded. Ochoa said there are a total of 21 colleges that have been given grants to start their own i3 programs.

Three colleges are from the original prototype and an additional 18 colleges from California. Each college is receiving $125,000 as a grant from the CCCCO. 

Ochoa said the program is funded for one year by the CCCCO.

The future of the i3 program at ELAC is focused on the program’s diversity and creating non-credit classes. 

Suarez said the group is already working on non-credit classes even before the winter cohort. There will be continued changes to these non-credit classes from things that are learned from the winter session. 

Alvarado said there will be two non-credit courses that will be offered after the initial winter session.

Ochoa said the CCCCO will help support colleges to find the most sustainable ways of continuing the program at their schools. 

Alvarado said each college in the group of 21 has to figure out what the best way to continue the work for the i3 program will be. She said non-credit courses make the most sense at ELAC.

“You can sign up and take any one of the two classes as many times as you want. That gives an opportunity for maybe a student who experienced the i3 program during the initial pilot, to come back and be like a peer mentor to other students who are taking the course work for the first time in fall 2023,” Alvarado said.

Ochoa said one of the goals of the program is to help the California economy recover, the other is to help students stay competitive in the world of technology. She said the way to accomplish this was for faculty, staff and the diverse student population of the community colleges in California to come together and create a unified, entrepreneurial front.

“The i3 Initiative is a culmination of this vision and will continue to provide faculty with the tools and resources needed to facilitate in-classroom experiences to train learners to seamlessly transition into 21st Century job opportunities,” Ochoa said.

The next i3 program informational session at ELAC will be from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 via Zoom at

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