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CSUs Awarded $7M to Improve Equity in STEM Education

Christianne Salvador


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​​​​​​​​​Six CSU campuses will receive a combined $7.5 million to reimagine online courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields: Fullerton, Humboldt, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, San Marcos and Sonoma.

​The awards are issued by the California Education Learning Lab, a new grant-making program administered by the state that is intended to close equity and achievement gaps in STEM and other disciplines.

In its first year, the Learning Lab sought proposals from colleges and universities across California on ways to improve the performance of underrepresented minorities (URM) in lower-division STEM courses. A CSU campus was a partner in each of the winning proposals.

Closing achievement gaps between URM students and their peers is a key pillar of the CSU's Graduation Initiative 2025. The CSU is committed to improving graduation rates for all students and producing more workforce-ready degree holders that California needs.

The grants will help address the lack of diversity in STEM fields. The number of ​URMs in STEM occupations continue to be disproportionately lower than non-URMs, with African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans accounting for only 11 percent of all STEM workers. Research has shown that increased diversity among workers drives greater creativity and innovation, two workforce qualities that are critical to ensuring California's competitiveness in STEM fields.

With the grant funding, campuses and their partners will create and redesign STEM online courses that aim to increase the engagement and student success of all lower-division students, including URM students.

CSU San Marcos, for example, is teaming up with MiraCosta College to make introductory computer science courses less lecture-based and more student driven. Their project, “Giving the Ownership of Active Learning to Students (GOALS)," will breakdown the courses into online modules of short readings and activities.

The modules will assess students' understanding of the materials, allowing both students and lecturers to identify the areas that each student needs help with. Students will also have open access to online resources to help them further their understanding in target areas. The course will include culturally relevant content to increase the retention and academic performance of URM students.

“In a traditional lecture setting, students are passively listening to the instructors and taking notes instead of actively engaging and digesting new content," says Youwen Ouyang, professor of Computer Science at CSU San Marcos.

“The materials will be broken down into interactive modules so that students can figure out what they understand and what they don't. We believe in student-driven learning and will design the courses to help students clearly see and achieve the goals of their learning."

Humboldt State, in partnership with UC Irvine, Foothill-DeAnza Community College District and Modesto Junior College​, will use their grant to address one of the main challenges to successful learning in an online environment: effective human interaction.

The team will implement the Humanizing Academy, a professional development program to help online instructors develop empathy, presence, awareness and human connections. Faculty will use tools and technologies to improve relationships with their students and build classroom community. The goal is to improve student interactions, strengthen students' sense of belonging and, ultimately, increase learning outcomes, especially for URM students.

The Learning Lab was established last year by the Governor's Office of Planning and Research with an annual budget of $10 million to close achievement gaps. In its initial years, the program is focusing on lower-division and hybrid courses in STEM. In later years, the funds may be used for other disciplines and to support professional development as well as curating a library of course materials that have successfully reduced achievement gaps.

The 2018-19 California Education Learning Lab awarded projects are:

Community Sourced, Data-Driven Improvements to Open, Adaptive Courseware - $1,300,000

CSU Fullerton, UC Berkeley​, Santa Ana College

Eliminating Equity Gaps in Online STEM Gateway Courses through Humanized Instruction - $1,300,000

Humboldt State, UC Irvine, Foothill-De Anza Community College District​, Modesto Junior College

Building and Testing a New Model for Continuous Improvement of High-Impact Online and Hybrid College Courses - $1,300,000

Cal State LA, UCLA, Los Angeles Pierce College

The Mechanics of Inclusion and Inclusivity in Mechanics - $1,300,000

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Santa Barbara​, Allan Hancock College

Giving the Ownership of Active Learning to Students (GOALS) - $1,038,000

CSU San Marcos & MiraCosta College

Developing Student Identity and Self-Perception as Capable STEM Thinkers and Learners at the Community College Level - $1,300,000

Sonoma State, UC Berkeley, College of Marin, Diablo Valley College

Graduation Initiative