CSULB Receives $5.8 Million Grant to Support Underrepresented Minority Students Pursuing STEM Degrees

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Despite recent significant increases, the number of underrepresented minority (URM) students earning degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) continues to lag. To address this issue, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) has received its second five-year $5.8 million grant. The award comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI)-STEM and Articulation Programs grant, Sí Puedo to help close opportunity gaps in those fields and boost bachelor’s degree attainment for Hispanic and low-income students. It will be implemented as a collaboration between the colleges of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (CNSM) and Engineering (COE).

“This partnership between the colleges will impact a large number of students and place them in a better position to achieve success and confidence to become scientists and engineers,” said Eric Marinez, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry who is the project director.

Sí Puedo (Strengthening the Impact by Providing Undergraduate Educational Development Opportunities) is aimed at improving student academic success, improving timely degree completion and retention, increasing degree attainment and developing model transfer programming. Sí Puedo, Spanish for “I can do it”, will foster the academic development, sense of belonging and STEM identity for Hispanic and low-income students through an asset-based and social-belonging framework and by increasing their career awareness. Key project activities include: a summer program for mathematics preparation and placement; freshman and transfer learning communities; peer mentoring and tutoring; supplemental instruction; a summer bridge research experience for transfers; a transfer orientation program; orientation for students and families; and faculty development workshops on cultural engaged pedagogy.

CSULB has had significant recent success in improving freshman and transfer graduation rates. However, in STEM, URM students have dramatically lagged behind non-URM students with achievement gaps at 15.3 percent in COE and 8.3 percent in CNSM. In addition, Latino first-time freshman one-year retention rates are significantly lower in COE (73.1 percent) and in CNSM (56.2 percent) compared to the university overall (88.3 percent). For transfer students, the university three-year graduation rate is significantly higher at 61 percent compared to lower rates for CNSM and COE at 30 percent and 25 percent, respectively, and there still remains a significant opportunity gap within STEM over the last three years. As a result, Sí Puedo programming specifically targets first-year students by equipping them with the tools and resources to be successful.

Nationally, CSULB conferred the sixth most baccalaureate degrees to Hispanics and minority students in 2015. Latino/Hispanic undergraduate representation at the university has increased in five years from 31 percent to 38 percent, making that group the largest ethnic population at the university. However, in the colleges in which the program is being implemented, Latino representation remains below one third at 32 percent in COE and 31 percent in CNSM, thus identifying the need to encourage more Latino students to pursue and complete STEM degrees.

A Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) is defined as a non-profit institution that has at least 25 percent Hispanic full-time equivalent enrollment and, of that Hispanic enrollment, at least 50 percent are low income. CSULB obtained its HSI eligibility status in fall 2005. Grants are awarded to HSI institutions to expand educational opportunities for, and improve the academic attainment of Hispanic students. In addition, they are designed to enhance the academic offerings, program quality and institutional stability of colleges and universities that are educating the majority of Latino college students and other low-income individuals completing post-secondary degrees.

Marinez will be joined by Krzysztof Slowinski, Associate Dean for Academic Programs, Evaluation, and Advising and Tracy Maples, Acting Associate Dean for Academic Programs, serving as co-program directors for the grant.

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