Solving for x and y in quadratic equations, mastering the rules of probability and crafting essays on cultural identity were just some of the lessons participants in the Bronco Scholars program learned over the summer.
The newly minted Broncos also got a crash course in living independently on a college campus, seeking help in times of struggle and tapping into resources designed to help them successfully achieve their goals.
And at the end of the six-week, residential program, 121 incoming freshman had a jumpstart on college – completing six or seven units by taking one general education math course and an ethnic and women’s studies class.
For Pomona resident Brianna Angulo, a freshman Spanish student, Bronco Scholars helped her overcome some of the doubts she had entering college.
“In high school, I didn’t think I would be able to do it. My grades weren’t the best,” she said of college. During Bronco Scholars “I found out that the math wasn’t out of this world like I thought. It was the same math I was familiar with.”
Fellow scholar Gloria Zhang, an Eastvale resident and biochemistry student, said she also learned some lessons about herself during the process.
“The first few weeks, it was pretty lonely because I don’t like to talk,” Zhang said, “but after the fourth or fifth week, I said, ‘I have to step out and talk.’ And I have made a few friends.”
The Early Beginnings
The Early Start Bronco Scholars Program helps students like Angulo and Zhang find their footing, preparing them for the rigor of college classes and building their confidence.
The program was launched five years ago in response to Executive Order 1110, a CSU systemwide mandate that eliminated remedial math and English classes. Concerned with the impact of required remedial classes on the graduation rates, the CSU Chancellor’s Office ended the use of placement tests to determine what math or English courses incoming students would need to take.
The CSU came up with another approach that involved enrolling students, based on numerical categories, in a general education math and/or English course and providing them with the supplemental instruction and support needed to help them catch up. Category 4 students, those in need of the most help, are mandated to take early start, but the program also will accommodate those labeled Category 3, students who would benefit from the additional support.
Cal Poly Pomona’s Early Start Bronco Scholars Program focuses on math, said Dora Lee, director of academic support and learning services. The program also added an ethnic and women’s studies course, which not only meets a second general education requirement but gives students the opportunity to learn about their own cultural identities and that of others in a safe space and further develop their writing skills.
“The students are learning about themselves in ways that they never imagined,” Lee said. “We have developed a program that is empowering and also exciting.”
CSU Early Start enables students to take their required classes at Cal Poly Pomona or at another CSU. The Bronco Scholars aspect of the program gives the students an opportunity to live on campus and have that more traditional college experience.
This summer marked the first year the program returned to in-person after being virtual for two years during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ability for the students to physically come together with their instructors, tutors, and peers makes a difference, Lee said. This year, five math instructors and five ethnic and women’s studies professors participated in the program.
The first year, Bronco Scholars was a hybrid residential and commuter program. In subsequent years, the program evolved in response to the challenges, including the virtual years.
Early aspects of the program, such as escorting students to class, curfew and heavily-structured programming and activities were eliminated, Lee said. The program introduced a math tutor in residence to provide help during the evening hours and added movie nights, board games and other more free-flowing activities to develop community and engage students.
It’s important that the program evolve to meet the challenges and ever-changing needs of a diverse student body, Lee said.
“We could be so organized, but once you incorporate human beings into the mix, you need to be able to pivot and be flexible,” she added. “We take the feedback we get and tailor the program to meet the students’ needs.”
A Growth Mindset
Typically, after breakfast at Centerpointe, the students headed to EWS 1401: Introduction to Ethnic Studies. Next, they attended their respective math courses, whether it was college algebra, statistics or survey of math, before and after lunch. The program also included mandatory math tutoring and workshops on assorted topics from financial literacy to diversity to basic needs.
One morning in her Survey of Math class, lecturer Amy Owolabi went over the students’ quizzes, with scholars taking turns coming up to the board to share how they solved problems.
Owolabi has been teaching at Cal Poly Pomona since 2016. Last year was her first with the Bronco Scholars Program, but this summer, she was able to feel fully immersed in it because she taught her classes in person, she said.
Teachers in the program are trained on important principles such as equity-minded teaching and the value of a growth mindset.
“We show them different videos and talk about trying something and never giving up,” she said. “It’s about getting them to be aware that the brain can grow and change, and after they know that, getting them to try. I see them positively responding to it.”
For Jamie Thomas, a graduate math student at Cal Poly Pomona, it was her first time teaching in the Bronco Scholars Program. What she says stood out to her was the bond that the students built.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie among the students because they all live together,” Thomas said. “One thing I like hearing about is the students in the dorms working together as a group.”
Jose Contreras, a Cal Poly Pomona graduate math student, serves as a teaching assistant during the year and an embedded tutor in the Early Start Bronco Scholars Program during the summer.
Contreras relates to the scholars because he recalls his own experience as a first-generation undergraduate student at Cal State LA struggling with the transition from high school to college.
“Here, we ease them in with a lot of support, and it is beneficial,” he said. “Students are learning to understand the effects of their habits. They stay up until 1 a.m. and are rambunctious at first. By the end, they learn that they have to sleep. They are getting that taste of freedom.”
Beyond the homework help, tutors also serve as role models for the scholars and provide emotional support, he added.
Peer mentors also provide a shoulder to lean on. Alejandro Barlow, a communications senior, was in Bronco Scholars in 2019. He loved the program so much and wanted to give back. So, in 2020, he applied to become a peer mentor.
The mentors live in the dorms with the students during summer, bonding through various activities, and check in with them a couple of times a year once the program is done, Barlow said. Because the mentors are close in age to the scholars, they can relate well and talk openly, he added.
“We’re essentially a friend to the students, someone they can always come to and talk with about their problems,” Barlow said. “You need someone who has gone through the experience.”
Making the Grade
During the program’s closing ceremony, each student crossed the stage to receive a certificate and a CPP plushy. It was a celebration of their accomplishment, but Jacqueline Naranjo, senior coordinator for academic support and engagement, made sure to emphasize that it was not the end of the road for Bronco Scholars.
She urged students to make sure to meet with their success coaches twice a semester and attend upcoming workshops and campus connection events.
“This journey you are about to embark on does not need to be a lonely one,” she said. “The Office of Student Success, Equity and Innovation will stand by you and be your compass as you navigate Cal Poly Pomona.”
Associate Provost for Student Success, Equity and Innovation Terri Gomez, reminded students to not only relish in the fact that they completed two 15-week college courses in just six weeks, but celebrate that getting accepted to Cal Poly Pomona was a huge feat.
Of the 50,323 freshman applications the university received for the fall, CPP enrolled 3,425, including the Bronco Scholars, she said.
She advised students to stay connected, ask questions, find ways to stay engaged in all classes and seek advice from advisors and Billy Chat.
“You might be in classes with students who don’t look like you,” Gomez said. “When you start to get that feeling that maybe, ‘I don’t belong here,’ remember that you earned that spot. Not only you, but your ancestors and families have paved the way for you to be here.”
The scholars said that the program was tough, but they were able to meet the challenges with the help of their friends, mentors, professors and support staff.
Anthony Vargas, a music industry studies student from Hacienda Heights, said the fast pace of the program was a bit difficult at times.
“You have to stay on top of it and stay focused,” he said. “One thing I learned about myself is that I need a lot of help when it comes to math. The tutoring and the Learning Resource Center was very helpful.”
Rancho Cucamonga resident Ava Uhlack, a communications student, said it was jarring to have such a large sense of independence, especially right out of high school. The self-described introvert connected with her extroverted roommate, and the pair developed a routine together around preparing for their day and studying, she said.
“Making connections and just getting a running start is very important,” Uhlack said. “Being able to knock something out of the way before we are thrown into chaos (this fall) really helps give you peace of mind.”