The California State University (CSU) is the largest system of senior higher education in the country, with 23 campuses, 50,800 faculty and staff and 479,000 students. Through its commitment to quality, opportunity and student success, the CSU is supporting and strengthening science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education across its campuses and contributing to the national effort to produce more college graduates with STEM degrees. These students will become the innovators, educators, researchers and leaders who can solve the most pressing challenges facing our nation and our world.

Undergraduate Research in the CSU

Undergraduate participation in research is a high-impact practice that enhances student learning, engages students in their own success and prepares them for the demands of the future. CSU campuses are providing hands-on and relevant approaches to learning about STEM that not only engage and energize students through real-world problem-solving, but make a difference in communities. Examples include:

Chico State 

California’s extended drought has put pressure on regional farmers and ranchers by increasing feed costs. An innovative study at Chico State examines how spent brewer’s grain can be used in winter feed for cattle. The strategy provides a new sustainability model in which one industry’s by-products are diverted from the waste stream and used by a second industry to reduce food production costs. Students are closely involved in the research, taking weight measurements, collecting samples and conducting analytical work.

CSU Dominguez Hills

Meeting growing energy demands is a matter of national urgency. CSU Dominguez Hills has assembled an interdisciplinary team to work with collaborators at the University of Southern California to improve energy literacy by incorporating sustainability goals into building design to reduce energy consumption. The project includes faculty and students from architecture, civil engineering, computer science, and psychology.

Humboldt State 

Economic issues surrounding access to clean, safe drinking water affect approximately 1.2 billion people worldwide. Students at Humboldt State are researching wastewater treatment and water reuse systems. Students have designed and constructed a forward osmosis and membrane distillation system, a device that treats wastewater for potable use. The prototype is part of a larger research initiative with the University of Nevada, Reno, exploring low-energy, large-scale wastewater treatment.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 

The CubeSat Research Program, a broad, long-term, multi-agency effort, aims to increase the number of scientific discoveries by reducing barriers to space exploration and providing hands-on learning on an international scale. As a co-inventor of the CubeSat standard, Professor Jordi Puig-Suari enables multi-disciplinary student teams at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to work with NASA and the Department of Defense to design, build and fly satellites.

Increasing Diversity in STEM Fields

The CSU is undergoing efforts to close equity gaps in STEM by preparing more students from underserved communities for these careers. CSU Long Beach, CSU Northridge and San Francisco State have received a total of $61 million from the National Institutes of Health-funded Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (NIH BUILD) initiative to implement and study innovative approaches to engaging and retaining students from diverse backgrounds in biomedical research. Campus activities funded through the award include mentoring, undergraduate research and career preparation.

The CSU’s California Pre-Doctoral Program is designed to increase diversity within the pool of university faculty, supporting the doctoral aspirations of CSU students with the goal of bringing them back to the CSU as faculty after completing their doctoral degrees. The program provides unique research opportunities, one-on-one mentoring from faculty and financial assistance to scholars and has been successful in bringing nearly 400 faculty members back to the CSU since its creation.

Preparing the State’s STEM Teachers

California is projected to need upwards of 33,000 new mathematics and science teachers in the next ten years. The demand for credentialed teachers in these fields is significantly higher than the supply of fully-qualified candidates. Access to qualified math and science teachers is associated with student achievement, and ensuring that all students have fully credentialed teachers is critical to closing the achievement gap in STEM education.

The CSU, the state’s largest producer of math and science teachers, responded to this challenge with a commitment to double its annual production of credentialed teachers in math and science. While this goal was achieved, with the number of qualified STEM teachers graduating from the CSU increasing from 750 to approximately 1,500 annually, the CSU continues to focus on producing California’s future STEM educators.

CSU campuses have been successful in acquiring federal grants to produce more STEM teachers. For example, 22 campuses have now received National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grants, which provide funding to students pursuing math and science majors to prepare for teaching careers. Federal support from NSF and the U.S. Department of Education has been more than $66 million. 

The CSU’s Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program continues to address the science and mathematics teacher recruitment and retention crisis by creating a prestigious dual "teacher-researcher" career path. STAR provides cutting-edge research experiences and career development for pre-service and early career teachers. By anchoring these teachers in the scientific research community, they better understand what it means to be a researcher and become a more effective teacher of science or mathematics.

STEM education is interwoven into every part of the CSU from encouraging students to become involved in undergraduate research to producing the teachers and faculty members who will prepare tomorrow’s leaders and innovators. To learn more visit www2.calstate.edu.