Last year, the College of Engineering and Computer Science was awarded a five-year, $5.5 million HSI STEM grant by the U.S. Department of Education to implement a program designed to increase the number of low-income, Hispanic and other underrepresented students graduating from CSUN with engineering and computer science majors. It was the largest grant the college had ever received.
Now, a year later, the project, dubbed AIMS² (for Attract, Inspire, Mentor and Support Students), is well under way, in concert with partners Glendale Community College and College of the Canyons. It is showing early signs of success—so much so that funding has been renewed for the second year. The first cohort—30 CECS transfer students, representing all nine majors in the college, and 15 students at each community college—enrolled in AIMS² in the spring semester, gaining access to special mentoring and advisement by faculty, tutoring and peer mentoring, as well as social activities, field trips and opportunities to take part in summer research projects. CSUN and community college faculty have also begun meeting to work on articulation between their courses, in order to strengthen and standardize articulation between courses, which will accelerate transfer students’ progress once they reach the university.
“Given the fact that this is the first time we have had this type of grant and we are learning from whatever issues come up, it has been going very well because so many people are working to make it succeed,” observes Nagwa Bekir, associate dean and a co-principal investigator on the grant.
Six CSUN faculty members— Stewart Prince and Robert Ryan from mechanical engineering, Gloria Melara from computer science, Amine Ghanem from civil engineering and construction management, Bruno Osorno from electrical and computer engineering and Behzad Bavarian from manufacturing systems engineering and management—are serving as faculty mentors. Their role is to meet regularly with their AIMS² students to help guide them through the academic process and keep them on track, as well as refer them to resources that will help them succeed academically. They are finding, however, that one of the most valuable aspects of the mentoring is the community that is developing among the participating students.
“They are really helping each other and willing to listen to each other if someone has something to say about a course,” Ghanem says.
Tesha Hagler, the college’s student outreach coordinator, has been supporting the project from an organizational standpoint, spearheading the recruitment effort, scheduling interviews and managing some of the administrative functions.
AIMS² = Attract, Inspire, Mentor, and Support Students
“We held an informal social in June, where we invited all three cohorts to attend,” she says. “It was a time for the CSUN and community college students to get acquainted, network with one another and exchange information. Nine times out of ten, students were able to connect with others who shared similar interests or had same the major.” Hagler will be following up to encourage the CSUN students to continue mentoring the community college students, all of whom plan to transfer into CECS.
Over the summer, the faculty mentors worked with selected CSUN and community college students who opted to take part in undergraduate research. The research projects ranged from simulations of civil engineering or construction processes to refurbishing lab equipment that hadn’t been used in a while to using an Arduino microprocessor to control a remote-controlled car from a laptop via a Bluetooth interface. Sometimes the projects required improvisation. Melara had one CSUN student and two community college students who were not advanced enough to carry out the research project she originally had in mind, so she used the opportunity to engage them in the basics of computer science.
“What it accomplished wasn’t the result of research but of what they saw,” she says. “They’re excited about the possibilities now. The idea is to empower them in what they can do. It was a very great opportunity to work with them.”
AIMS² also has begun leaving its mark on the community college students. At Glendale Community College, it sparked the creation of a new club, called Supersymmetry, and led to field trips to CSUN and a naval station in San Diego. At College of the Canyons, AIMS² students and faculty have been meeting monthly for updates, creating a real community. Two students also were instructors for a junior high summer institute on the campus, teaching aeronautics.
For the coming year, the leadership team, faculty mentors and staff will be integrating the next cohort of students into the AIMS² community, incorporating more social activities and fine-tuning the faculty advisement to ensure that student schedules permit them to take part in group mentoring sessions. Also in store is a new approach to the tutoring and peer mentoring components to encourage greater utilization of these support services.
“It’s a learning experience for everyone, not just the cohort,” explains Bekir.
“If, at the end of the day, we do what we say we will, it will a be very good program and a model for any university and community college collaboration,” adds Ghanem.
AIMS² Faculty Mentors