Matthew Johnson, Ph.D. and Amy Sprowles, Ph.D.

Humboldt State University

Matthew Johnson, Ph.D. and Amy Sprowles, Ph.D.

Matthew Johnson, Ph.D., professor of wildlife, and Amy Sprowles, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences, are recognized for their transformative work in creating supportive and welcoming environments for traditionally unrepresented students through place-based learning communities.

Johnson and Sprowles organized a collaborative network of faculty across HSU to deliver cohesive and linked curriculum within each learning community, from chemistry to Native American studies to communication. With the goal of implementing high-impact practices to support the success of first-year STEM students, Johnson and Sprowles developed several learning communities for students in the College of Natural Resources and Sciences and divided students into cohorts: The Klamath Connection serves students majoring in wildlife, forestry and environmental science; Stars to Rocks serves students majoring in physics and astronomy, chemistry and geology; Rising Tides serves students majoring in marine biology and oceanography; Among Giants serves students majoring in biology, botany and zoology; and Representing Realities serves students majoring in mathematics and computer science.

Place-based learning communities show significant increases in students' sense of belonging and in academic performance when participants were matched with comparable non-participants. As a result, the learning communities reduce equity gaps in gateway science courses, help close the equity gap in first-year retention, increase credit hours earned in the first year and produce small gains in student GPA.

“Through their place-based learning communities, Drs. Johnson and Sprowles have cultivated a sense of belonging in our rural, isolated location, connecting students to the rich natural resources and cultures of California's North Coast," says Tom Jackson Jr., Ph.D., president of HSU.