NSF Grants Valley CSU Campuses $2.5 Million to Improve STEM Education



​​​​Three California State University campuses in the San Joaquin Valley will work together to develop innovative teaching practices to improve student academic performance and retention in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

Fresno State, CSU Bakersfield and Stanislaus State received a combined $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation in September 2019 to form a regional team of science and math experts, including lecturers and social science researchers, to think outside the box when it comes to teaching STEM. 

They will participate in intense creative-thinking “Ideas Labs” with nationally recognized math and science mentors to design a more interactive curriculum for lower-division chemistry and mathematics classes. These classes tend to be stumbling blocks for students seeking to graduate with a STEM degree. Then the team will apply the practices to their coursework and center it on research on real-world problems in the San Joaquin Valley, starting with air pollution. 

“This is unique and transformative in that it’s beyond one campus, serving an entire region,” said Dr. Christopher Meyer, dean of Fresno State’s College of Science and Mathematics. “It’s great to work with our partners in Bakersfield and Stanislaus on collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches to facilitate student success in STEM. We’re really excited about this, since it has the potential to benefit thousands of students in chemistry and math at the three CSU campuses.” 

Each university will focus on a discipline that presents the greatest challenge to its own students. Fresno State will focus on chemistry and math. CSU Bakersfield will concentrate on chemistry, and Stanislaus State will focus on math. Emerging best practices and innovations will be shared across the three campuses. 

It’s critical to increase the number of STEM graduates given the rapid growth of available, highpaying STEM jobs, Dean Meyer said. It is estimated the United States will have to fill millions of STEM positions by 2025. At the same time, less than 40 percent of students who intend to major in STEM actually graduate with a STEM degree, he notes. 

The project hopes to boost the number of Hispanic, first-generation and low-income students with STEM degrees to better reflect the demographics of the region. All three campuses are HispanicServing Institutions, as designated by the U.S. Department of Education. About 60 percent of the students on the three campuses are Pell Grant-eligible, meaning they come from low- and mediumincome households, and about 70 percent are the first in their families to attend a four-year university. 

Another goal is to promote in chemistry and math students a greater sense of belonging, a stronger sense of self-efficacy and identity and a connection to faculty and their peers. 

The work also will engage faculty-learning programs to share the practices developed with all instructors, especially part-time faculty who typically are not included in professionaldevelopment opportunities. 

“In the CSU, we pride ourselves on great teaching, and this grant will enable our already-innovative teachers to share ideas and work synergistically across campuses,” said Kathleen Madden, dean of CSU Bakersfield’s School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering. “We look forward to the positive effect this collaboration will have on student engagement and success in chemistry and mathematics courses.” 

The three-year project started in October 2019.​