Cal Poly Pomona will tap into a $3 million grant to increase access to the university for area high school and community college students, fund its Early Start Bronco Scholars Program and provide faculty with additional training centered on fostering math grit.
The five-year federal grant, dubbed Project Caminos (Cultivating Access and Mentoring through Institutional Networks and Opportunities for Success), is designated for Hispanic-Serving Institutions like Cal Poly Pomona. It aims to eliminate the equity gap by preparing students for graduation, life after graduation and supporting a diverse, skilled workforce for the regional, statewide and national economy.
A portion of the grant will fund three positions – one focused on outreach and increasing access to the university and two for a transition effort designed to ensure students are academically successful beyond their freshman and sophomore years.
“While the funding targets Latinx students, the grant serves all low-income and underrepresented, as well as first-generation, college students who don’t have access,” said Terri Gomez, associate vice president of student success. “Others have the access, but they don’t know that college is attainable. These students need to know the full array of options.”
Outreach to the Community
One component of the grant focuses on raising that awareness.
The university will work with high schools and community colleges in the Pomona area – offering outreach and financial literacy workshops, campus tours and other support services to these local prospective students and their families.
The newly launched iGrad, an online money management tool that provides mini courses in personal finance, is available for students to help them with budgeting and financial wellness.
Cal Poly Pomona also plans to tap into data to examine not only the number of its Latinx applicants, but what fraction of that number is admitted and of those admitted, how many actually enroll, said Sep Eskandari, associate provost.
“At every point, there could be barriers. We want to look at those barriers and try to eliminate them,” he said.
Early Start/Bronco Scholars
The second component is related to helping students who need additional assistance with math make that transition from high school to college. A portion of the grant will fund Bronco Scholars, a five-week summer transition program in which participants live in campus housing and take two college courses — a general education math course and an ethnic and women’s studies class.
Students in the program will begin their fall semester with academic momentum, and six or seven units under their belt. Perhaps more importantly, they begin the new year with a sense of belonging and connectedness and deep awareness of support services to foster student success.
Bronco Scholars began as a pilot program in the summer of 2019 and has been so successful, that the university plans to extend it.
Last year, students who placed in category 3 and 4 in math had a 50 percent pass rate in their general education statistics course. In the first summer of Bronco Scholars, that pass rate spiked to 82 percent, Gomez said.
“The Summer pilot was successful,” Gomez added, “because we worked closely with the faculty, embedded tutors in the course, and provided additional support throughout the summer program.”
For freshman communications student Alejandro Barlow, Bronco Scholars provided him with more than just an early chance to experience living on campus and tutoring to help him master statistics. The San Pedro native also was able to forge a bond with his fellow students in the program through fieldtrips, on-campus activities and late-night study sessions.
“I got to know everybody really well. We all knew each other. We knew our strengths and weaknesses, and we all helped each other,” Barlow said. “I was thrilled that I got this opportunity. It feels like I belong here. The program really helped.”
Gisselle Blas, a freshman who is studying sociology, said Bronco Scholars not only helped her to get ahead academically, but the program made adjusting to a college environment feel seamless.
“College as an experience is so scary,” said the La Puente resident. “Getting used to campus before actually starting in the fall, making new friends and getting more comfortable was the biggest benefit.”
Endowment to be created
Cal Poly Pomona funded Bronco Scholars with a grant from the Kellogg Foundation this past summer. With this new grant, the university plans to set up an endowment to grow the program going forward. Twenty percent of the grant will go into an endowment with the university charged with raising matching funds, Eskandari said.
With the money in the endowment and matching funds, Cal Poly Pomona could raise up to $1 million over the next five years to continue to serve students in the program, he added.
The Division of Academic Affairs will work with University Advancement on the endowment.
Fostering Math Grit and Equity-Minded Practices
The grant’s third component involves faculty engagement and enhancement to the pedagogy to foster equity-minded practices.
The idea is to train professors to foster math grit in students, ensuring that even if they struggle, they have the belief that they can master what they need to learn, Gomez said. Math Professor Ann Cawley and Engineering Assistant Professor Jessica Perez will spearhead this effort.
Cal Poly Pomona takes an assets-based approach to its students, meaning that the university embraces their work ethic, dedication and commitment to overcoming obstacles, Gomez said.
“We know that resilience, hard work, being the first in the family to go to college doesn’t just change a student’s trajectory,” she said. “It changes the trajectory of their extended families and entire communities.”
The grant will help to institutionalize many of the strategies the university has employed already, Gomez added.
The plan is to embed academic success coaches that will follow students through their first year and transition into their second year.
Technology also will play a role.
“We are going to use Billy Chat, our artificial intelligence chatbot to ‘nudge’ students with reminders,” Gomez said. “We also will use CPP Connect in our work with faculty to do progress reports and early alerts. This allows us to act quickly on information provided weekly by instructors identifying students who may need extra support. We are also partnering with the Learning Resource Center and our Student Affairs wellbeing units to provide wrap around services.”