May 2017 Newsletter: Peer Connections Provides Resources and Support

Photo: James Tensuan Junior Film student Heriberto Zavala works in Peer Connections, a support service that provides peer mentoring, peer tutoring and supplemental instruction.

Photo: James Tensuan
Junior Film student Heriberto Zavala works in Peer Connections, a support service that provides peer mentoring, peer tutoring and supplemental instruction.

By David Goll

Peer Connections, a program offering holistic academic support to students, is playing an integral role in efforts to improve the rate of student success at San Jose State University.

Deanna Peck, Peer Connections director, is hopeful about expanding and enhancing their services in coming years. Having been hired to improve and expand the program five years ago, Peck has seen the number of tutors, mentors and supplemental instruction leaders increase from 25 two years ago to 60 this spring. That could double to 120 by fall with more funding.

The services are aimed at helping students not only survive but also thrive throughout their college experience, especially in difficult classes with high-failure rates or first-year classes through which students are learning what it means to be a Spartan. University officials expect Peer Connections will provide significant support as part of the Clearing Bottlenecks initiative — one of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success adopted by the university to improve the student experience while also keeping students on track to graduate in four years for first-time freshmen or two years for transfer students. Currently, the average time is 5.2 years for first-time freshmen.

Peck said tutors generally work with students on class content, while mentors focus on assisting students with study strategies, time and stress management issues. Supplemental instructional leaders are assigned to facilitate study sessions for classes with high failure rates.

“San Jose State’s current emphasis on peer education and leadership is exemplary,” Peck said. “It’s an exciting time for the program.”

Tutors and mentors who work in classrooms or the spacious study area inside the Student Services Center earn more than minimum wage and average 9 to 12 hours a week on the job.

Lauren Cordova, a peer mentor, behavior science major and one of this year’s outstanding graduating senior recipients, said she works with many student athletes grappling with time and stress management issues. Michael Fashola, a chemistry major and peer tutor, said he fields many questions from students in chemistry classes about specific problems from lectures or homework. Sonnan Naeem, a peer tutor and anthropology major, said he finds satisfaction guiding fellow students as they work through some of the same problems he had earlier in his academic career.

Having already dropped a physics class at Ohlone College in Fremont, student Haider Syed said he knew when he transferred to SJSU in fall 2014 he would need help from tutors for such classes as physics and calculus. The former engineering major found Peer Connections online his first semester, but also saw presentations about it in classes.

“About a month into my first semester, I started using tutors,” Syed said, adding he has continued to do so off and on. “One semester, I had help from four tutors for three courses.”

Though Syed switched his major to business, he still uses tutors two hours a week.

“The tutors are there to help me,” he said. “I make a note of a problem I have during a class and discuss it with them. I bring my textbooks if I have a homework problem I don’t understand. I can pass these classes on my own, but I feel tutors have helped me get higher grades.

Ingrid Salazar, a junior majoring in environmental studies who transferred to SJSU last fall, brings homework to the Student Services Center an hour before an appointment with a tutor.

“It provides a nice, quiet area to study,” Salazar said. “The free breakfast is nice, too.”

She learned about Peer Connections from a classmate. Several weeks into the fall semester Salazar said she wasn’t faring well in pre-calculus. Vowing not to fail a class, she started working with tutor Jacky Cheng, a chemical engineering student.

“He helped me quite a bit,” Salazar said. “He took things slowly and deliberately, going step by step. I needed that.”

Salazar noted she felt overwhelmed at times in her class.

“I kind of felt like I was drowning,” she said. “Jacky was very calm in his approach. He provided me a lifeline in that class.”

She’s working with him again this semester after struggling with a chemistry class. Salazar said the help she has received from tutors will assist her in graduating on time. She hopes to join the Peace Corps.

Another student who frequently visits Peer Connections to study and improve his skills and gain confidence is Martin Tran, a junior majoring in Creative Arts. He heard about the program on a campus tour. Like Syed and Salazar, he has worked with tutors, but also mentors.

“This is a great place for me because I’m able to get help on assignments,” Tran said, adding he receives assistance on study skills to prepare to take upper division courses as a disabled student.

“We reflect on assignments, we attempt to solve problems together, we communicate often via email. Tutors prepared me well when I took the writing skills test to get into upper division (courses) and meet a graduation requirement.”

University officials allocated $2.8 million for clearing bottlenecks during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years – classes that have long wait lists that are a prerequisite to make progress toward degree as well as courses with high-failure rates.

It may already be bearing fruit. The number of units taken by both the overall student body and among new students has seen a slight uptick, according to Dr. Stacy Gleixner, SJSU’s interim associate vice president for Studen t and Faculty Success.

“We’re focused on providing greater access to classes and improving student performance in high-failure rate classes,” Gleixner said.

According to university statistics, the average unit load (AUL) for all SJSU undergrads last fall was 12.7 units, compared to 12.4 for the fall 2015 semester. Students who attempted to take a full semester load of 15 units increased significantly last fall compared to a year before: from 18 percent to 33 percent among freshman, 28 percent to 36 percent among sophomores, 28 percent to 31 percent among juniors and 29 percent to 31 percent among seniors. Among new transfer students at SJSU, it increased from 14 percent to 20 percent.

A 2015 study by the Public Policy Institute of California spurred action on this issue not only by SJSU and California State University leaders but by members of the state legislature. It predicted a shortage of a million workers with bachelor’s degrees by 2025, and another deficit of 500,000 workers with at least some college course work.

High-failure rate classes exist in every college. Sometimes high failure rates in classes can be an issue of technology, while at other times, students struggle because they lack the proper background and prerequisites to succeed in a difficult course, Gleixner said. Her team is working to increase awareness of the tutoring, mentoring and supplemental instruction services offered by Peer Connections while seeking out additional funding to expand services.

May 2017 Newsletter: High Achievers Recognized at 2017 Honors Convocation

Photo: James Tensuan Kinalani Hoe poses with her certificate at the 2017 Honors Convocation, where more than 4,300 students were recognized for achieving GPAs of 3.65 or higher.

Photo: James Tensuan
Kinalani Hoe poses with her certificate at the 2017 Honors Convocation, where more than 4,300 students were recognized for achieving GPAs of 3.65 or higher.

By Barry Zepel

San Jose State University recognized the outstanding academic achievements of 4,338 students, a record number, at its 55th Annual Honors Convocation on April 28.  A capacity crowd – including family, friends, faculty and staff members – filled the Events Center, to hear words of encouragement and inspiration.

Some of those words came from Persis Karim, honored as the university’s2017 Outstanding Professor and keynote speaker for the evening.

“Please don’t underestimate the power you have to affect this world and to affect and change the lives of other people,” said Karim, professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature in the College of Humanities and the Arts.

Karim, also the founding director of Persian Studies, directed her comments to the 430 President’s Scholars and 3,908 Dean’s Scholars from all colleges on campus. President’s Scholars are undergraduate students who have earned a 4.0 grade point average in at least two contiguous semesters of the three prior to the honors convocation. Dean’s Scholars are undergrads earning at least a 3.65 GPA in at least two contiguous semesters of the past three.

Among the honored students were 62 Spartan student-athletes, also a record total, with six earning President’s Scholar recognition. It was the third year in a row that a record number of students involved in Intercollegiate Athletics achieved the rank of Dean’s or President’s Scholars.

“Teaching is a two-way street,” Karim said. “Your journey here shapes and influences us, your professors. I pride myself on being a teacher who seeks to make an engaging and meaningful classroom experience where I set a high premium on students’ free expression and their ability to discover and articulate their voices.”

Many of the 2016-2017 scholars were proud to share how San Jose State affected their lives and to name educators who especially helped them on their successful paths.

Anna Adaska, President’s Scholar and dance major from the College of Humanities and the Arts, said “an experience that shaped who I am today would be my first performance with SJSU’s contemporary performing company, University Dance Theater. Our director, Raphael Boumalia, changed the way I viewed performing permanently… After speaking with Professor Boumalia, I viewed performing as an experience that is shared by the audience and performer, in which the performer’s only obligation is to share their art honestly.”

Eulises Valdovinos, President’s Scholar and industrial & systems engineering major from the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, said being recognized by SJSU “is not only a huge honor, it is also a constant reminder that my family members’ sacrifices as well as the struggles of previous generations who fought for my education have not been in vain. Blanca Sanchez-Cruz (assistant director for student support programs for the SJSU Engineering Student Success Center) contributed so much to my success as a student, and even as I entered the professional world.”

Sanchez-Cruz hired Valdovinos as a peer advisor for the Mesa Engineering Program (MEP), a program that aims to support educationally disadvantaged and first-generation students in attaining four-year degrees in engineering.

“I learned how hard she works to make sure there are opportunities available for our students,” he said.

Wendy Adhearn, Dean’s Scholar and kinesiology major from the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, noted that she has learned a lot from all her professors.

“But in my second semester at SJSU, Dr. Bethany Shifflett gave me an opportunity to really challenge myself and to interact with other kinesiology students and professionals at the Western Society for Kinesiology and Wellness Conference in Reno, Nevada,” she said. “There I was able to present a critique of research that interested me and I received invaluable feedback and encouragement.”

Greg Lucio, Dean’s Scholar and a child and adolescent development major from the Connie L. Lurie College of Education, appreciates that he “has been fortunate to be enrolled in two classes with Professor John Jabagchourin.”

Lucio noted that his professor’s passion for teaching makes learning fun and easy.

“He makes lessons relatable to his students and has inspired me to use the theories and research that we discuss in an international way when working with children,” Lucio said. “It has given me a great understanding of how to work more efficiently with children.”

In addition to Karim, three other San Jose State faculty members were recognized at the Honors Convocation:  Brian Belet, professor of music and an accomplished composer, as 2017 President’s Scholar; Chris Cox, lecturer in sociology and interdisciplinary social sciences, as 2017 Outstanding Lecturer; and Lui Lam, physics professor, as 2017 Distinguished Service Award winner.

Learn more about more of this year’s San Jose State scholars, as well as recent history about Honors Convocation, online.

May 2017 Newsletter: ITS Creates Altamont Center to Engage Student Interns

15SJSU students intern with the campus’ Information Technology Services team to support student success.By Barry Zepel

Classroom-based learning provides the foundation for earning a degree; learning in a hands-on, real-life setting sharpens skills to prepare a student for a career.

That is just one part of the strategy behind the creation of the Altamont Center in Information Technology Services (ITS) at San Jose State University, where 16 students majoring in a variety of disciplines are completing internships that help them develop the marketable skills desired by corporations and other organizations in Silicon Valley. Interns work on projects involving data science, business intelligence, technical writing, software testing, software development and project management. Of the students, seven are undergraduates and nine are completing graduate degrees.

The students – who are in disciplines ranging from management information systems (MIS) to computer science to engineering to statistics – work closely with ITS staff on projects that move forward the goals of the department. The strategy is in line with SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan, with initiatives that support student engagement as a key pillar. Dana Nehoran, who serves as both a faculty member in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business and a staff member in ITS, proposed the idea a year ago as a way to engage students through internships.

“The center employs students who are able to work on technical tasks related to their areas of study, while they also help achieve important goals and make a lasting impact on the campus community,” Nehoran explained. “Our student interns take part in essential projects that help SJSU provide more effective services for the entire student body.”

The students are mentored and supervised by full-time ITS staff members. The team Nehoran moves SJSU’s Four Pillars plan forward by identifying obstacles to student success, such as financial hardships, advising processes or inability to register for needed classes. The university can then focus resources on the areas that will have the most impact on improving graduation and retention rates. The interns are compiling and analyzing data, and ITS will distribute reports to help campus administrators make decisions about student success initiatives.

Together, the Altamont interns are providing San Jose State with predictive analytics. Nehoran describes it as “a discipline that attempts to make useful predictions about the future based on statistical analysis of historical data.”

“From the ITS point of view, we have this wealth of knowledge and capacity in these students,” said Bob Wrenn, SJSU’s interim chief information officer who oversees the department. “We have a lot of work to do here and we have a finite amount of resources to get it done. I can get students here who are highly trained and highly available; they’re on site and help complete the work we need done.”

The interns play an important role in the department, according to Wrenn.

“They are delivering real-life value working side-by-side with my permanent, full-time staff, who serve as their mentors and supervisors,” he noted.

Nehoran said the interns’ use of predictive analytics could have a positive impact for thousands of their fellow SJSU students, of whom 14 percent graduate in four years with the university focused on increasing that to 35 percent by 2025. The interns are analyzing historical information to find patterns that help identify students at risk of not completing a degree in a timely manner with the objective of enabling the appropriate campus services to provide proactive intervention.

While the interns realize that the “real-life experience” they’re getting will help them when seeking their first jobs after graduation, that isn’t all that is inspiring and exciting them.

“What we do here is going to add value to the campus community,” said Ryan Quigley, a second-year graduate student majoring in statistics. “We’re working under the umbrella of predictive analytics, which is using the data that the university has, to make predictions that are going to be beneficial to students’ lives.”

“Our main goal as Altamont Center interns is to make sure that the university’s resources are allocated efficiently. We don’t want (administrators) opening up class sections that are going to be empty, and we don’t want them closing sections that are going to be in high demand,” noted Quigley, who has already been offered a full-time position with a San Francisco-based financial institution as a result of his Altamont Center experience.

The internship program has had a profound impact on Nazia Khan, who like Quigley is a second-year master’s student and statistics major.

“I am totally a different person since I started (at the Altamont Center),” said Khan, who spent two years as a teacher in her native India after completing her undergraduate studies there. “I have more experience and confidence that I can survive in industry because of Dana Nehoran and the Altamont Center. I’m working on something that I am passionate and excited about because I am helping students to acquire their degrees and complete their education while helping to prevent them from dropping out because of emotional or financial reasons. We are able to help them by providing data to the professionals on campus responsible for directly helping those students.”

Additional information about the Altamont Center internships in the ITS Department is available by contacting Nehoran at dana.nehoran@sjsu.edu.

May 2017 Newsletter: Provost Update – Four Pillars Success is Measured through Student Stories

As we end another academic year, I am pleased to share the progress we have made on one of our top priorities – student success. This spring, Vice President for Student Affairs Reggie Blaylock and I updated SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks, a plan informed by many campus stakeholders who helped us to identify initiatives that will move us toward improving graduation rates, retention, student experience, and preparing our graduates to pursue advanced degrees or to thrive in their careers.

Our 2016 graduation rates, reported in the fall, show that we are steadily moving toward our 2025 graduation goals. We improved our first-time freshmen graduation rate from 10 percent to 14 percent; our six-year graduation rates improved from 57 percent to 62 percent; and we decreased the achievement gap between our underrepresented minority students and their peers from 17 percent to 11 percent.

Other indicators show that we continue to make progress in shortening the time to degree for students. For spring 2017, 36 percent of our undergraduate students enrolled in 15 units or more, up from 25 percent in fall 2015. We have offered additional courses to clear bottlenecks and hired more advisors while increasing awareness that students need to complete 15 units each semester to stay on track to graduate on time. The Office of Student and Faculty Success launched their #FinishinFour and #TakeTwo campaigns during orientation sessions last summer and worked hard to inform students that to graduate in four years for first-time freshmen or two years for transfer students, they need to take 15 units a semester. These communication efforts doubled the number of first-time students taking 15 units. Our efforts are showing returns and undergraduate average unit load is already trending upward.

We still have much work ahead to meet the ambitious goals of eliminating our achievement gap entirely and graduating 35 percent of our first-time freshmen in four years by 2025. I have confidence that as we continue many of the initiatives launched this year, we will meet these goals (see monthly updates online).

In addition to supporting students once they enroll, we are also looking at ways to partner with K-12 and community colleges to prepare students for university coursework. Reggie and I co-hosted two student success summits with Assemblymembers Evan Low and Ash Kalra that brought together partners from community colleges, K-12 and nonprofits to discuss the ways we can work together to ensure students are prepared for college-level math and English when they arrive at CSU campuses. We have created working groups around three key areas in which SJSU faculty, staff and administrators will partner with local high schools: summer initiatives for high school students; teacher professional development; and college readiness presentations for school boards. I look forward to reporting more in the fall after we launch pilot programs in each area.

While we are measuring much of our progress in numbers, students’ personal stories are also marks of our success. I am pleased to share with you some of the ways our Four Pillars plan is supporting students – from ITS’s internship for students who are using predictive analytics to improve advising processes to the African-American Student Success Task Force’s alternative spring break and Chicanx/Latinx posole study breaks to the record number of students who were recognized for high achievement at this year’s Honors Convocation on April 28 – these student experiences are the reasons we remain dedicated to our plan.

AVP for Student and Faculty Success Appointed

Dr. Stacy Gleixner has been appointed as the associate vice president for Student and Faculty Success following a thorough search process, effective immediately.

Gleixner started as the interim AVP for Student and Academic Success Services in February 2016 and oversaw the reorganization of units to the Office of Faculty and Student Success in fall 2017. She has been an integral leader in implementing SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan. Her appointment will allow us to maintain momentum around our initiatives and make movement toward our 2025 graduation rate targets.

She served as a lecturer at SJSU in the Davidson College of Engineering. She joined the faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical, Chemical and Materials Engineering in 1999, and became a full professor in 2011. She served as associate chair of the department from 2008 to 2014; and as chief of staff to the president from 2014 to 2016.

During her tenure on campus, she has been committed to improving student success as well as increasing access to STEM programs for women and underrepresented minority students. As interim AVP, she has worked closely on increasing student average unit load; communicating with faculty about high-impact practices that can increase engagement; and on refining metrics to measure the success of SJSU’s Four Pillars initiatives.

Gleixner, who is herself a first-generation college student, holds a bachelor’s in materials science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and a master’s and a doctorate in materials science and engineering, from Stanford University.

Winifred Schultz-Krohn chaired the search and worked with committee members to select a top candidate.