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: 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

September 2016 Newsletter: Development Efforts Support Student Success

Photo by David Schmitz Students in the Spartan Scholars Program gather with a peer mentor after class. The Koret Foundation gave $2 million to SJSU to support student success initiatives, including the Spartan Scholars Program.

Photo by David Schmitz
Students in the Spartan Scholars Program gather with a peer mentor after class. The Koret Foundation gave $2 million to SJSU to support student success initiatives, including the Spartan Scholars Program.

As Student Affairs and Academic Affairs staff and faculty launch initiatives to support student success, two recent gifts to the university are specifically earmarked to fund such efforts. University Advancement received a $15 million gift from Lupe Diaz Compean and a $2 million gift from the Koret Foundation last spring.

Compean’s gift will support student success initiatives and scholarships. The donation will also support the maintenance of SJSU’s newly renovated and expanded Student Union, and the many activities housed in this structure located in the heart of campus.

“San Jose State has been in conversation with the Compeans for the past two decades,” said Vice President for University Advancement Paul Lanning. “Throughout this time, Lupe Diaz Compean has been crystal clear that her motivation in making the gift was to benefit students, honor her family and her late husband by naming a facility, and demonstrating that by working hard and getting an education, anyone can achieve what she has in her lifetime.”

The new student union was dedicated in honor of her and her late husband on Sept. 1. The facility is now known as the Ramiro Compean and Lupe Diaz Compean Student Union.

In addition, SJSU received $2 million from the Koret Foundation as part of a multi-year $50 million initiative to support higher education at a dozen institutions in the Bay Area. SJSU’s funding will be used to create a new student information analytics system that will improve advising; support the Spartan Scholars Program, a newly launched summer bridge program that is aimed at increasing retention and graduation of underrepresented students; and provide scholarships for students with the most need.

“This is a significant start to our efforts to seek funding to support student success initiatives, and it will be complemented by what will ultimately be the $8 million Compean Endowment for Student Success Initiatives once that fund matures,” Lanning said.

The goals of the gifts are in line with SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan, which is focused on college readiness, advising, student engagement and clearing bottlenecks.

“The Koret Foundation is proud to fund this initiative that builds on and expands our longstanding commitment to these important Bay Area academic institutions,” said Michael Boskin, President of the Koret Foundation. “This program is designed to be a catalyst for new approaches to optimize student success, improve completion rates, and bolster career advancement opportunities, particularly among underserved populations.”

In support of the campus priority, Lanning created a new position in University Advancement to continue fundraising efforts around student success. Emily Lane, hired in August, is the new director of development for student success.

September 2016 Newsletter: High-Impact Practices Engage Students

Photo courtesy of Resa Kelly Chemistry Professor Resa Kelly, second from the left, presented research on using visual animations in teaching chemistry this summer. Here she is pictured with colleagues at a meeting in Brazil.

Photo courtesy of Resa Kelly
Chemistry Professor Resa Kelly, second from the left, presented research on using visual animations in teaching chemistry this summer. Here she is pictured with colleagues at a meeting in Brazil.

A group of San Jose State University professors who work in the College of Science as part of the Science Education Program is offering their support to faculty who are interested in incorporating high-impact practices into their curriculum to support student success. Ellen Metzger, the director of the Science Ed Program and a professor of geology, attended a summer workshop on high-impact practices at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It helped me understand the practices better and I am really grateful to be part of a team that is developing sustainable and interdisciplinary tools,” she said.

The Science Education Program also includes Resa Kelly, a chemistry professor, Cassandra Paul, a physics and astronomy professor, and Elly Walsh, a meteorology and climate science professor. The four are versed in curricular design, transformation and evaluation along with using technology to design and study learning. As part of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success, high-impact practices are recommended to increase student engagement and help to clear bottlenecks in key courses.

Kelly began her teaching career at the high school level and is particularly interested in helping students make the transition from high school to college-level chemistry. Chemistry is a prerequisite for some majors that often causes a bottleneck due to a higher rate of failure or withdrawals than the average across other courses.

Using a grant from the National Science Foundation, Kelly’s research is aimed at developing visualizations to boost deeper learning. She has worked with SJSU animation artists and computer science students to create short videos about the atomic level details of chemical reactions where the outcomes conflict.

“The overall goal is that we shouldn’t tell students which animation is right or wrong,” she said. “We want to connect them to the evidence and hope over time, with practice, they will be able to justify why one model is preferred over another.”

Walsh is currently involved in research on understanding and supporting student engagement in socially controversial scientific issues, such as climate change causes and impacts. Paul is a member of the Physics Education Research group. She has experience in investigating the interactions between students and instructors in interactive classrooms and helped develop the Real-time Instructor Observing Tool (RIOT).

Metzger said the Science Ed team is particularly hopeful that plans for an interdisciplinary science building will allow them more opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from other colleges.

“Research has shown project-based learning and instruction is effective,” she said. “We need to think of innovative ways to be interdisciplinary.”

She also noted that project-based learning offers an opportunity for students to feel connected to their community.

“The key to equity is engaging students of all types in their learning,” she said.

Stacy Gleixner, interim AVP for Student Academic Success, and Amy Strage, AVP for Faculty Development and director of the Center for Faculty Development, also attended the summer workshop on high-impact practices. They are developing easy to implement “Faculty Matter” tips that are sent to all faculty weekly by email and archived on the Academic Spotlight blog.

Provost Welcome Message Fall 2016

Dear Academic Community,

Welcome back to another exciting year at San Jose State University. I hope all of you enjoyed the summer and are ready for the start of the fall semester.

Our top priority this year will continue to be student success. President Papazian is committed to improving graduation and retention rates, and enhancing the student experience at SJSU. She brings with her a strong background in developing strategies to assist in such efforts. She is supportive of the work we’ve undertaken and I’m confident she will provide enthusiastic leadership as we move forward.

Over the summer, Academic Affairs and Student Affairs leadership hosted a productive joint retreat in which we solidified our partnership, began refining SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success Plan and developed an implementation strategy for key priorities this fall. This plan will guide us as we continue to work toward improving graduation and retention rates.

SJSU remains committed to contributing to the CSU Graduation Initiative 2025. The Chancellor’s Office has revised targets for each campus, with San Jose State’s goal for first-time, first-year student four-year graduation rates set at 35 percent. It is an ambitious goal, but with all of us working together, it is certainly achievable. We will also be working to eliminate our graduation gap between students who are underrepresented minorities or Pell grant eligible and their peers. More information and other target goals are available on the Provost website.

Our campus is fortunate to be one of the first pilot institutions involved in a new CSU Student Success Dashboard — Faculty Matter — developed by the Chancellor’s Office. The dashboard is a tool to help faculty, staff, and administrators better understand our students. It includes college and department specific information about student demographics, progress to degree, course pass rates and other information that we can use to further support and enhance student success.

As part of our college readiness efforts, I will be co-leading a Student Success Summit on Sept. 30 to explore ways we can work with our K-12 and community college partners, and legislative leaders, to improve graduation and retention rates. While most of the day’s events will be closed to the public, the general campus is invited to hear Martha Kanter, former under secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and a former chancellor for the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District, give a keynote speech from 8 to 9 a.m. in Student Union Room 1.

In addition, SJSU is honored to host the 19th Annual CSU Teaching and Learning Symposium on Oct. 21 and 22. The theme this year is “Promoting Student Success through Innovation, Creativity, Diversity and Teamwork.” For more information on the symposium, visit the Center for Faculty Development website.

As we focus on student success, we will also continue to provide research, scholarship and creative activity support and professional development for faculty and staff. We have a plan in place that aims to increase RSCA opportunities for faculty and students. We will also continue to offer professional development grants for staff, with a call for proposals due out soon.

I appreciate having all of you as partners in this vitally important work.


Andy Feinstein