Waiting lists are nothing new in higher education, but for a special program in CECS, it’s schools, not students, that are queued up to get in.
The college’s ACCESS program (Accelerated Coursework in Computer Science and Engineering for Student Success), which debuted in 2007, enrolls academically talented high school juniors and seniors in a special online section of the college’s MSE 101 (Introduction to Engineering) course each fall, earning them two units of college credit. The aim is to interest increasingly diverse students in engineering and computer science and encourage them to enroll at CSUN to pursue their college education.
For the coming year, five lucky schools made the cut. Although this represented a reduction from previous years due to budget constraints, the schools were selected because they are major feeder schools for CECS, and their students had showed the greatest interest in the program in the past. More than 80 students from High Tech High Los Angeles, Monroe High School, Northridge Academy, Simi Valley High School and Sun Valley High School took part. To earn college credit, all were required to enroll in the CSU’s systemwide Talented High School program, which allows high school juniors and seniors with an overall 3.0 GPA to take up to six units per semester at a CSU campus for a single modest fee.
The program is clearly resonating with a demographic that up to now has been underrepresented in engineering. “Most schools are Title I schools, and a lot of the students are first generation,” Hagler says.
As for ACCESS itself, it’s distance learning with a twist. A teacher liaison at each site—typically a science or math teacher involved with the school’s robotics program—is responsible for recruiting the students. These lead teachers, who have been trained at CSUN by Manufacturing Systems Engineering professor Tarek Shraibati, who teaches the course, are also responsible for facilitating the hands-on, lab portion of the course at their school sites.
Once a year, the ACCESS students visit the CSUN campus for an entire day, where they tour the engineering labs, meet with CECS faculty and staff and complete an assignment at the library.
“They get to see what college is all about,” Hagler explains.
Student fees cover only a small portion of the program’s cost, and the college absorbs the balance, but for the fall 2009 course, ACCESS received additional support from generous donors, including Carole Morton, Rick and Dolores Ratcliffe, Tony and Pamela Schwarz, and Dennis and Tina Brodie. Dr. Morton and Dr. Ratcliffe are members of the college’s Industry Advisory Board, and Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Brodie are alumni.
Future plans include seeking more support from industry, particularly to add a scholarship component for eligible ACCESS students who go on to pursue degrees in engineering or computer science at CSUN. Hagler would also like to take ACCESS students on field trips to different companies, so they can become familiar with the engineering workplace. As resources permit, the course offerings may also be expanded, all of which is sure to enhance the program’s appeal.
The program’s success can already be measured in the number of ACCESS students who have become CSUN engineering students—an average of 26 a year. So far, that’s nearly 80 future technical innovators, designers and problem solvers who will be helping to sustain America’s competitiveness well into the 21st century.