A $2-million infusion of federal funds is bolstering a new effort aimed at narrowing the achievement gap and raising the graduation rates of underrepresented minorities, and low-income and first-generation students at Cal Poly Pomona.
The impetus for the Achieve Scholars program is California State University Chancellor Timothy White’s push last year for the implementation of high-impact practices to improve student success. Among activities deemed as high-impact are undergraduate research, peer mentoring, internships, on-campus employment, tutoring and the Summer Bridge program.
The Achieve Scholars program will receive $2 million over five years through The U.S. Department of Education’s Title III funding. The aim of Title III is to strengthen institutions that serve low-income students.
“We wanted to have a program that serves first-generation, low-income students and underrepresented students because they tend to graduate at a lower rate than majority students,” says Winny Dong, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research who is overseeing the Achieve Scholars program. “By targeting them, we wanted to introduce them to a suite of high-impact practices. The three high-impact practices we picked are undergraduate research, peer mentoring and on-campus employment.”
The program began recruiting students last December and accepted 30 engineering students who are underrepresented minorities or are first-generation students. Achieve Scholars is seeking 30 science students to round out the initial class.
Although the program is targeting underrepresented minorities and first-generation students in the first phase, the goal is for the Achieve Scholars program to impact all university students within three years. Dong seeks to evaluate the high-impact components before expanding the program. “We’re building the infrastructure to support the future,” she says.
To qualify for the program, students must have at least a 3.0 grade-point average, carry 12 units per quarter and be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
All participants will receive a $1,000 stipend per year. While undergraduate research is the crux of Achieve Scholars, peer mentoring is the on-campus employment component of the program. The stipend acts as compensation for on-campus employment.
“Undergraduate research really prepares the students to take on non-structured learning. As opposed to an instructor saying memorize these things that will be on a test, students are given a problem to solve,” Dong says, who is also a professor in chemical and materials engineering. “That’s something that employers really value. So by having undergraduate research on your resume, it helps with getting jobs when you graduate and also if you’re thinking about going to graduate school.”
A recruitment drive for the 2015-16 academic quarters will start in the spring, Dong says.
A unique component of the $2 million in Title III funding is a clause stating that up to 20 percent of the total can be used to establish an endowment. The Achieve Scholars program plans to set aside $300,000 for an endowment. Matching funds from non-federal sources can be raised over five years to match the endowment total. Those matching funds will provide “sustainability” for the program, Dong says.
The program is developing strategies to secure matching funds for the endowment.
“That’s the goal of reaching donors. Help us help these students become successful,” Dong says. “It’s really highly leveraged because not only are you getting double your money’s worth. You have the U.S. Department of Education’s experience and support behind you as well.”
The Office of Undergraduate Research, which coordinates the Achieve Scholars program, plans to use $1.7 million for initiatives such as workshops on undergraduate research, courses on how to conduct undergraduate research, a peer mentoring program, and an online repository to publish and share undergraduate research.
“Students really see the value in being involved with faculty members and other students at a deeper level,” Dong says. “They’ve been very excited and grateful for the opportunity to be part of something like this.”