November 2017 Newsletter: Braven Prepares Students for Careers After College

Photo: Brandon Chew Students in the Braven Accelerator network with industry and nonprofit leaders who teach them valuable skills that will help them search for their first job post graduation.

Photo: Brandon Chew
Students in the Braven Accelerator network with industry and nonprofit leaders who teach them valuable skills that will help them search for their first job post graduation.

By David Goll

At the age of 19, San Jose State University junior Nasheli Arce can already visualize how her business career could look.

The young woman who spent part of her childhood in a town near Mexico City with her eyes on a global career spends one night a week at Facebook Inc. as part of a course she is taking through SJSU’s College of Science and nonprofit Braven. The Lucas College and Graduate School of Business management information systems major is enrolled in the three-unit Braven Accelerator course, a program created to help underrepresented students attain skills that will help them succeed in their career searches after graduation.

Taught both online and in person, one of the main features of the Braven course is small-group work, pairing six to eight students with career coaches from a variety of Silicon Valley high-tech companies and nonprofit organizations. Tianna Hall, a project manager at Facebook, leads Arce’s group. Her group meets at the Menlo Park-based social networking giant.

“She really pushes us to go above and beyond,” Arce said of Hall, one of 20 career coaches working in the program, who volunteer 60 hours per semester. “As humans, we tend to settle into our comfort zones. One of the best things about this class is that it teaches us to put the extra into the ordinary. We have to break those habits and patterns. We have to keep challenging ourselves.”

Arce is one of 127 students in this fall’s cohort of the local Braven Accelerator. SJSU is one of only two universities nationwide to form a collaboration with the four-year-old Chicago-based nonprofit along with Rutgers University in Newark, N.J. San Jose State joined with Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley as part of an initial 10-week pilot program for Braven in spring 2014.

After the pilot, Braven officials decided to focus resources solely at SJSU where they felt they could have the biggest impact. The program expanded to a 15-week credit course in fall 2015, according to Andrea Schwartz Boone, executive director of Braven Bay Area. Dr. Melanie A. McNeil, professor of chemical engineering, is teaching the course this fall.

“Parts of the course are online, and then students meet in person to practice their skills,” Schwartz Boone said of the class format.

Classes are held Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with sessions held both in Washington Square Hall on campus and scattered about Silicon Valley at the job sites of career coaches such as Arce’s group leader Hall. In addition to Facebook, other coaches work at Google Inc., LinkedIn Corp., eBay Inc., Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Teach for America.

Schwartz Boone said she and other members of her Braven Bay Area team began their research for the program by going directly to employers.

“We asked what it takes to get hired and what it takes to get promoted at their companies,” she said.

In talking with employers, five areas of career-searching competency emerged: the ability to network and communicate, operate and manage, solve problems, work as part of a team and development of self-driven leadership, or softer skills, such as being able to learn from both successes and failures.

By the end of the 2017-18 academic year, 600 SJSU students will have completed the Braven program. So far, Schwartz Boone said 96 percent of the students have either graduated or continue to make progress toward their degrees, while 76 percent have had at least one internship as compared to 49 percent of first-generation students at large state schools nationwide.

Perhaps most importantly, 75 percent of Braven’s SJSU alumni who have already graduated have secured what Schwartz Boone calls a “strong job” within six months of finishing college. “Strong” jobs are based on salary amounts, health benefits and whether the position requires a four-year college degree.

“We are seeing some exciting outcomes,” she said.

Dr. Elaine Collins, associate dean of the College of Science, is proud to show off another exciting outcome: two awards recently bestowed upon Braven’s SJSU course. During October, a committee of the CSU/CCC/UC 2017 California Higher Education collaborative Conference recognized the Braven course with its Focus on Efficiency award, while the University of South Carolina’s National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition gave the program its Institutional Excellence for Students in Transition Award.

During the on-site classes, students receive instruction and feedback on their skills not only from the coaches but also from one another, Collins said. The Braven program is geared primarily to sophomores and junior transfer students new to campus, in hopes of helping shape their academic, internship and career trajectory. Collins said team-building exercises help students to develop “stories” about themselves to create an identity and give them a sense of purpose at college.

“Often, first-generation college students feel at some point like they don’t belong,” Collins said. “In this course, we help them not only develop stories about themselves but progress to developing their own personal professional story, too.”

View Braven’s recent Bay Area Report.

Faculty Matter Tip #29: Helping students pull things together – Writing a letter to a future student   

One of the themes running through many of our Faculty Matter Teaching Tips is the notion of setting up one’s courses so as to enable students to be intentional about their approach to their academic work. The goal is to lead them to “engage” more thoughtfully and actively, to reflect constructively on challenges they encounter, and to “own” their academic trajectory.

As you set the stage for the end-of-semester push, it can be useful to include opportunities for students to think about your course content overall, as well as what they have done to succeed in mastering it. One activity that has been implemented by at least two SJSU colleagues I know of is to have students write anonymous letters to hypothetical future students in the course. Prompts might include the following – or other questions you think might be helpful:

  • What, in a nutshell, was this course about?
  • What was the most interesting part, for you (the letter-writer)?  Why?
  • What did you learn about yourself, from taking this course? (About you as a student?  About your interests?)
  • How might what you learned in this course apply, to your future studies or to your life outside of SJSU?
  • What advice do you have for someone about to embark on this course? Be specific here – why have you selected these recommendations?

Both faculty members mentioned above have compiled the letters they have gathered over several semesters. They frequently share some of them with students at the start of each semester, to get the new cohorts off to an informed and inspired start.

You can read all previous tips on the Faculty Matter Tips page of the CFD website, and share your own thoughts and ideas on the comment link below.

Download a PDF version of the tip: FMTT29

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #28 – Revisiting the plan for the last few weeks of the term: What to do if we’ve fallen a bit behind.

As we get closer to the end of the semester, many of us realize that we have fallen a bit behind, and the “something will have to give” if we are to get through everything we’d planned to cover.  This Teaching Tip is designed to help you think through how to handle such a turn of events in your classes, should it arise.

 

Clearly, there is no single “right answer” to the question of what we should do. Strategies we entertain will need to:

  • consider how critical remaining topics are to achieving the learning objectives of the course and to preparing students for courses that build on its content; and
  • maintain the coherent threads that have lent coherence and structure to the course.

In a recent study of students’ perceptions of the “ideal” professor, the authors report that their respondents placed the greatest value on instructor clarity. Ability to communicate the relevance of the material, command of the subject matter and responsiveness to students and their needs and a sense of humor were next in importance.[1] Findings such as these caution us to be careful that we do not sacrifice those elements of our teaching that permit students to find what we are saying and doing clear and easy to follow, as we speed up or omit treatment of our course content.

Speeding up and spending less time on remaining material than we had initially intended may, indeed, enable us to at least touch on everything. And omitting topics or time-intensive instructional activities may enable us to make up time. However, such solutions often result in fewer opportunities for discussion and student-centered in-class activities, and less time spent on preview and review of material. In so doing, we may be cutting out precisely those elements of our teaching that permit students

  • to reflect on what we are teaching,
  • to monitor their understanding (or points of confusion), and
  • to engage with the material in ways that are meaningful and effective for them.

So what should we do? First, reassess our plan for the course intentionally, weighing the likely impact of the changes we are about to implement and create a revised course plan. Second, be sure to follow through with students – making sure class notes, study guides and other learning supports we may have already shared with students reflect the revised agenda. Third, make a note for ourselves about why our initial time estimates were off, and whether circumstances were special this semester, or whether we should bear this in mind as we plan for the next time we teach the course.

Please add your own strategies using the comment link on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty Matter.” We also invite you to peruse other Faculty Matter Teaching Tips at your leisure.

[1] Goldman, Z. , Cranmer, G., Sollitto, M., Labelle, S., & Lancaster, A. (2017) What do college students want? A prioritization of instructional behaviors and characteristics. Communication Education, 66:3, 280-298.

Download a PDF version of the tip: FMTT 28

Faculty Matter Tip #26: Helping students to make – and act on – plans for next semester

Yes, the fall semester is still in full swing, but it is also “registration season” for Spring. Many students have a clear idea of the classes they need or want to take, but others could benefit from some guidance.

In some aspects, registering for classes for upcoming semesters is a fairly technical matter: Students need to know what they must take to continue making progress toward their degree, and they must follow the university’s registration processes.  In other aspects, registering for classes presents a wonderful opportunity for students to reflect upon what they are learning and what they want to know more about as they prepare for life “after SJSU.”

The purpose of this Tip is to help you identify a few very easy and quick ways you might help in this process, as part of your regular classroom interactions with students.

Read Faculty Matter Tip #26.

Students Form Connections to Professors and Curriculum in Humanities Honors

By Melissa Anderson

Professor James Lindahl, philosophy and humanities, lectures on Greek philosophers to a class of Humanities Honors program students. (Photo: James Tensuan, '15 Journalism)

Professor James Lindahl, philosophy and humanities, lectures on Greek philosophers to a class of Humanities Honors program students. (Photo: James Tensuan, ’15 Journalism)

Alisala Nunes, a first-year student, initially wanted to attend a liberal arts school. But when she discovered she could pursue a degree in civil engineering at San Jose State University’s top-ranked Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering and apply for the Humanities Honors program, it seemed like a win-win.

“It was a nice surprise that SJSU had a program like this,” she said.

The Humanities Honors program was founded in 1954 by four professors who combined history, literature, arts and philosophy education into a four-semester program that fulfills many GE requirements while also providing a learning community for students. The students stay together as a cohort for four semesters.

“I’ve made a few friends in my seminar,” Nunes said. “Most friends are from my living situation or major, so it’s nice to have a switch to talk to people who are interested in other things.”

For Nunes, she said the Humanities Honors Program has already begun to teach her the analytic and communication skills she will need for engineering, where she sees the ability to work as team member to be essential.

“I leave every lecture with new ideas and see the interconnectivity of disciplines,” she said. “I see how art, religion, law and culture tie together.”

Professor Cynthia Rostankowski, the coordinator of the program, said the majority of students who enter the program are from non-Humanities majors, such as business, psychology, economics, computer science and others. She noted that the qualifications for the program are within reach of many students, with a requirement that they have a 3.0 unweighted GPA and 550 on the SAT reading/writing section (students can also qualify with select other entrance exams or a 3+ on an AP English exam.)

“A lot of people think it is just for high-achieving students,” Rostankowski said. “But it’s really to help students learn how to learn.”

Through the program, students attend a lecture class that is team taught by four professors and then break out into smaller groups for seminar sessions.
Carmel Weiler, a graduate student in philosophy and Rostankowski’s teaching assistant, said she joined the program as an undergraduate. Even though she had to stop out for personal reasons, she said being part of the program helped her resolve to return to her education years later. During her time away from her studies, she kept all her books; they benefited her as she tutored neighborhood kids.

“The program stressed how to write well, and that will help me in the research phase,” she said, as she continues to work on her master’s and plans to pursue a doctorate.

In 2014, the department began offering an Advanced Honors Program that works on the same principles, completing SJSU Studies areas R, S and V. It is a two-semester program that is team-taught and provides a cohort for upper division students who have successfully completed the WST, including incoming transfer students.

Isaiah McNair-Wilson, a transfer student who will be graduating in 2017, said he joined the Advanced Honors Program as he thought it would be “fun to take eclectic classes.”

As a business major with an emphasis in marketing, he said he made many friends in Advanced Honors and has learned a lot about writing. The skills have already helped him as he pens cover letters for his job search.

“The classes teach critical thinking,” he said. “You need humanities courses no matter what field you are in so you understand the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of what you do.”

In addition to the skills and knowledge students gain in the classroom, Rostankowski said the programs also provide mentoring and advising for students.

“At orientation, I ask students if they have heard of the sport of curling,” she said, describing how players move a stone across a sheet of ice. “There is one position called a sweeper who skates backward to clear a path so the stone can slide smoothly to where it is intended to go. I see my work as doing that for students.  We need to do what we can to assist students to find their path and thrive.”

2017-18 Humanities Honors Instructors:
Tova Cooper, Humanities
James Lindahl, Philosophy & Humanities
David Mesher, English & Humanities
Johanna Movassat, Art History & Humanities
Kenneth Peter, Political Science & Humanities
Cynthia Rostankowski, Humanities
Jennifer Rycenga, Humanities
Gregory Smay, Humanities
Andrew Wood, Communication Studies & Humanities

2017-18 Advanced Honors Instructors:
James Lindahl
Cynthia Rostankowski