Dr. Christina Sciabarra Discusses Her Transition to a Community College Career

Christina Sciabarra is an adjunct faculty member in Political Science at Bellevue College. Her research focuses on building peace after civil wars in the Middle East, particularly Iraq and the Levant region. She is actively engaged with organizations building cultural bridges between the Middle East and the US. Dr. Sciabarra is an alumna of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Fellowship and the Jackson Foundation Leadership Fellowship and works with an international non-profit focused on youth empowerment.

What’s a typical week like at Bellevue College? What energizes you about working at a community college?

A typical week at Bellevue College includes the usual class meetings, a professional development event, and working on college-wide changes using the Achieving the Dream framework.  We are in the process of implementing Guided Pathways and synchronizing this with updating our Integrated Student Support services and faculty professional development.  We are focusing on increasing student success (currently defined as retention and completion of degrees and certificates) and there is a lot of work taking place all over the college on this initiative.  I am leading the development of the First Year Seminar; we are piloting the course and setting teacher training while building a peer educator program.

The focus on student success and support is one of the reasons I love working at a community college.  Everyone is committed to supporting students in finding success and the focus on teaching fits my values and interests.  There are a few of us who still work on research and use undergraduate research as a teaching tool and the faculty community is really supportive and motivated.  What energizes me about teaching in the community college system is that we are open access institutions – anyone can come and change their lives or continue their lifelong learning journey!

What did you study in graduate school? Can you say a little bit about your research?

I always knew I wanted to focus on conflict and peace studies and I discovered that this body of research lives in political science while taking an undergraduate course on armed conflict with Dr. Faten Ghosn (who would become my dissertation advisor).  I started out focused on Russia and Ukraine but was mobilized and sent to Iraq after my first semester of the Ph.D. program. When I returned I changed my focus to the Middle East and post-civil war peacebuilding.  My research looks at how civil conflicts are terminated and peacebuilding outcomes.  I started out trying to create post-civil war peace categories, but it was challenging to find cross-national and longitudinal data that worked for my definitions.  I am working on taking the peacebuilding index I created and connecting it with those peace outcomes so we can better understand the impact of conflict termination and long-term peace.

Why and when did you choose to pursue a career in a community college?

It was a bit by accident.  I actually worked for the college in an administrative role in the career center for four years before turning to teaching full-time.  I was working on my dissertation when I started with the college and began adjuncting while working in the career center.  I always knew that teaching was important to me and that I wanted to spend the majority of my time focused on showing students how to use basic research methods to think critically and become more engaged in the world.  When I realized I wanted to teach full-time I quit my administrative position to become a full-time adjunct.  It was a risky move, but there are opportunities for promotion and contracts that guarantee courses for adjuncts at my college.  I love working with students and being engaged with the field of political science!

Investing in students is our mission and that means supporting students who may need additional time and coursework to be ready for four-year universities.

In what ways did your doctoral training help you in your career? 

I will skip the obvious point that it made it possible for me to teach political science and instead focus on the data science skills I did not expect to gain, but have used many times.  Data and their use have become extremely important in today’s world. Understanding how to collect, organize, analyze, and visualize data and outcomes are skills I use in many different venues at the college.  Additionally, my graduate training taught me how to speak confidently in public and defend my position using data and critical thought.

Do you have any advice for Ph.D. students considering a career in a community college?

You must love teaching!  Community colleges are 100% focused on teaching and student success.  You can find time and space to work on research and some colleges even support it as a pedagogical practice (I am fortunate my college has an entire institute devoted to high impact practices), but at the end of the day, it is all about teaching.  It is also imperative that you are completely committed to decolonizing higher ed and supporting students from systemically non-dominant groups (Jenkins, 2018).  Investing in students is our mission and that means supporting students who may need additional time and coursework to be ready for four-year universities.  If you love teaching and want to empower students then community college is the place for you!

APSA’s Career Paths series explores the wide range of career trajectories that political science PhDs can take and provides specific career advice for graduate students entering the job market, as well as other political scientists at all career levels who are looking for new career opportunities. Individuals interested in contributing to the series should email Dr. Tanya Schwarz, APSA’s Director of Teaching & Learning, tschwarz@apsanet.org