September 2016 Newsletter: Spartan Scholars Program Enhances College Readiness

Photo by David Schmitz Spartan Scholar Program students engage with a faculty member during a summer course before the start of their freshman year.

Photo by David Schmitz
Spartan Scholar Program students engage with a faculty member during a summer course before the start of their freshman year.17

On a July afternoon, new Spartans filled half of the tables in the Dining Commons, laughing and chatting with each other as though they had known each other for years. The 112 incoming first-year students had only met each other three weeks before when they moved into the residence halls to participate in a five-week summer transition program, but the 12-hour days they spent together allowed them to build strong bonds quickly.

The students were participants in the Spartan Scholars Program, a new summer residential program that provides college readiness support in English and math while also preparing admitted Spartans for the transition from high school to university life.

“It’s an opportunity to get familiar with the campus,” said Kevin Cardona, a student from Oakland who plans to major in civil engineering. “It’s exciting to try out this new thing and get ahead – to be prepared. We have our own little community.”

Cardona is the first in his family to attend college. He said the rigorous schedule for the program that includes English or math classes, tutoring sessions, study hall, and social activities has helped him set his expectations for his first semester.

The five-week summer program is free to students. SJSU covers associated summer costs, including tuition, room and board on campus, textbooks and weekend activities. Students who applied were selected based on admission to SJSU, academic need, financial aid eligibility, English placement test and entry level mathematics examination scores, educational and personal background.

Academic Affairs and Student Affairs submitted a joint proposal for funding for the program through the Student Success, Excellence and Technology Fee, approved by the Campus Fee Advisory Committee, which includes student representatives. SJSU plans to expand access to the Spartan Scholars Program through funding from the Koret Foundation, which awarded SJSU $2 million to use toward student success programs.

The program is one of many initiatives in SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan that is focused on improving college readiness. More than 30 percent of incoming freshmen admitted to SJSU require additional support in math, English or both to prepare for college-level courses.

Debra Griffith, the AVP for Transition and Retention Services in Student Affairs, said Drew Agbay, who served as the program director, coordinated with students, staff, faculty and other campus partners to make the summer session successful.

“Launching the Spartan Scholars Program was a huge undertaking and would not have been possible without (them),” Griffith said.

Sabrina Martinez, a kinesiology major from Stockton, said her father is an SJSU graduate who is proud that she is now a Spartan, too.

“It’s great to be able to have a head start and refresh your memory for school,” she said, noting that making friends was one of the best benefits of the program. “Everyone is getting along. We won’t be alone when the semester starts.”

Alyssa Vargas, a psychology major from Fresno, said she also appreciated making connections on campus.

“We will have help in the fall,” she said. “We have people to ask for help.”

Jessica Padron, who is from Long Beach, said the summer program offered a chance to settle in at SJSU from Southern California.

“It made the transition a lot easier,” she said. “I’ve made a lot more friends and I know a lot more resources.”

She wants to be a teacher and minor in public relations.

“It really helped with time management because it was a rigorous schedule,” she said.

Fatima Soriano, who is from Los Angeles, agreed with Padron that living on campus helped her adjust to life in San Jose.

“It’s an opportunity to come in knowing how college works and to build relationships, so you don’t have to come in alone,” she said.

Lia Castellanos, the community director for the Spartan Scholars Program this summer, is a graduate student, ’17, Biotechnology, and Fulbright Scholar.

“The academic part of the program is important, but we need to balance that with time to relax,” she said, noting that despite the stringent weekday schedule, the students had more free time on the weekends. “It’s been great getting to know the students. They have so much energy. I see their faces are so excited for the fall and the possibilities.”

Castellanos said the group activities included a mix of reflective activities and more fun competitions such as a water balloon challenge.

“They understand it is a great privilege to be here,” she said. “It is helping them understand their own skills and they are realizing they can do it. It is amazing to see that process every single day.”

Share Thoughts on Mentor, First-Year Experience Programs

As SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success is rolled out this semester, students, faculty and staff have an opportunity to provide input on two key components of student engagement — faculty/staff mentor and first-year experience programs.

Project Succeed Discussion Sessions

RSVP at or to

Faculty/Staff Mentor Program

Planning and implementing the new faculty mentor program

Sept. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon in ENG 285

Coffee and lunch will be provided

First-Year Experience

Brainstorming session on FYE and its future at SJSU

Sept. 23, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in ENG 285

Lunch will be provided

Through a U.S. Department of Education Title III Strengthening Institutions five-year grant, a group of faculty and staff members have been working to establish sustainable best practices for student success.

“We want to provide support to students in the first two years,” said Pat Backer, the director of the grant dubbed Project Succeed and a professor in the College of Engineering. “Many of our students are the first in their family to go to college and they are not from traditional college-going backgrounds. They need to learn how to navigate the college environment.”

In its first year, Backer and her collaborators selected five areas of focus that they believed could be sustainable once the grant period is completed. The areas include block scheduling, the mentor program, peer educators and mentors, first-year experiences, and student living learning communities in the residence halls.

The discussion on Sept. 9 will address how to expand on a pilot faculty/staff mentor program that started in spring 2015. Maria Alaniz, a professor in the College of Social Sciences and the coordinator of the mentor program, helped to implement an online portal that matches students and mentors. For more information on the pilot, visit

The discussion around first-year experience on Sept. 23 will aim to answer questions about what type of programs are sustainable at SJSU, what will fit in with SJSU’s culture and what students want. Models could include a general education course, an extended orientation model, or programming in the dorms.

SJSU Professor Discusses Chemistry Education in Brazil, Cuba

Dr. Resa Kelly, an SJSU chemistry associate professor, second from left, presented at the Brazilian Society for Chemistry and American Chemical Society meeting in May with Dr. Charles Atwood, Dr. Marcy Towns, Dr. Norb Pienta and workshop organizer Dr. Fernando Galembeck.

Dr. Resa Kelly, an SJSU chemistry associate professor, second from left, presented at the Brazilian Society for Chemistry and American Chemical Society meeting in May with Dr. Charles Atwood, Dr. Marcy Towns, Dr. Norb Pienta and workshop organizer Dr. Fernando Galembeck.

San Jose State University Associate Professor Resa Kelly learned that a desire to increase student success transcends borders this summer when she traveled to Brazil and Cuba to meet with researchers and educators who are focused on improving learning outcomes in chemistry.

Kelly serves as secretary of the American Chemical Society’s (ASC) Division of Chemistry Education (DivCHED) and is co-chair of its International Activities Committee this year. The committee is involved in finding ways to collaborate with international partners on improving learning in both secondary and university-level chemistry courses.

As a member of SJSU’s Science Education team and a faculty member in the chemistry department who began her teaching career at the high school level, Kelly brings a unique understanding of the challenges of teaching chemistry at different educational levels.

She was invited to Goiânia, Brazil in May as part of ACS’s International Activities Committee to present at the Sociedade Brazileira de Quimica (Brazilian Society of Chemistry.) The goal of the visit was to promote global collaboration among chemical education researchers.

Kelly is one of three DivCHED representatives who participated in a workshop on “Teaching Chemistry: Vision, Practice and Achievements” hosted by Dr. Fernando Galemback. Kelly’s presentation, “Insights into US Science Teacher Preparation in California and Research Exploring the Design and Development of Chemistry Visualizations,” provided an overview of the SJSU teacher credentialing process emphasizing the role of Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards in teacher training.

She also addressed research she is conducting that is funded by the National Science Foundation that is aimed at developing visualizations to boost deeper learning. She has worked with animators to create short videos about the atomic level details of chemical reactions that are in conflict with each other.

“The overall goal is that we shouldn’t tell students this 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.”

In June, Kelly traveled to Villa Clara, Cuba to present at the International Symposium of Chemistry. She and Dr. Charles Atwood, DivCHED IAC co-chair, were invited to speak during the Ernest Eliel Symposium on Chemical Education. The symposium brought together 50 Cuban educators to discuss the nature of teaching and learning in Cuba and the United States.

“In spite of the different cultural background, we discovered that many of our educational concerns were mutually shared,” Kelly said. “For example there was much discussion about motivating students to learn, easing the transition from secondary school to college chemistry, dealing with the limitations of technology and recognizing its usefulness, and embracing collaborative learning models with practice-based approaches.”

Dr. Kelly Resa, far right, spoke at the International Symposium of Chemistry in Cuba. She is pictured here with Dr. Luis Montero Cabrera, Dr. Manuel Alvarez Prieto, Dr. Thomas Bussey and Dr. Charles Atwood.

Dr. Resa Kelly, far right, spoke at the International Symposium of Chemistry in Cuba. She is pictured here with Dr. Luis Montero Cabrera, Dr. Manuel Alvarez Prieto, Dr. Thomas Bussey and Dr. Charles Atwood.

Atwood and Kelly plan to visit chemistry classrooms and laboratories at the University of Havana as well as some secondary schools in the near future. Along with Atwood’s colleague Dr. Joel Harris, they were awarded ACS Innovative Project Awards to invite Cuban delegates to visit SJSU and other universities in the U.S. in spring 2017 to brainstorm ways to collaborate on future teaching and learning projects.

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



YMCA Students Visit SJSU

Elementary school students enrolled in Silicon Valley YMCA Summer Day Camps visited San Jose State University’s campus June 24 for a scavenger hunt. As part of the challenge, the young students learned about the different degrees SJSU offers while touring the campus. One clue included “Where would you go if you want to become a teacher?” The answer, which most of the groups discovered around 1 p.m. is Sweeney Hall, home of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education. At each stop, the students gathered for a photo to prove their successful answer to each campus clue.

The Silicon Valley YMCA Day Camp visit highlights one aspect of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success plan released in spring 2016, college readiness. Initiatives in the college readiness pillar are focused on creating a college-going culture in Santa Clara County while also helping to prepare students in K-12 for college-level courses.