Ongoing collaboration between the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences (CEAS) and the Teaching, Learning + Technology (TLT) Faculty Center has led to a $3,000 grant from the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS), which will go toward assessing the effectiveness of a CEAS initiative known as the Area of Interest (AOI) program. Since fall 2008, the AOI program has supported first-year, transfer and continuing undergraduate students who endeavor to gain entry into a CEAS major, but for one reason or another, are not directly admitted. This award follows on the heels of a Presidential mini-grant that the organizers of the CEAS AOI program received last year from Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.
Professor Imin Kao, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Jennifer Dellaposta, Interim Director of Advising, have worked closely with Christine Szaraz, an AOI advisor in the CEAS Undergraduate Student Office, to roll out some new ideas to help AOI students this summer. Following in the footsteps of the successful Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) boot camp model that requires students to go through a rigorous program in the summer before their freshman year, CEAS has decided to put a less intimidating spin on their version by changing the name from boot camp to the EDGE Program (Engage, Develop, Grow and Excel). Working with Admissions and Enrollment Management, CEAS will identify 20 to 40 students to admit to the EDGE Program this summer.
“A lot of times, AOI students are coming into the University lacking the math skills which are the building blocks of our engineering disciplines,” said Dellaposta.
All engineering programs at Stony Brook require students to take calculus. In large part, the students in the AOI population are not prepared to take this course and in some cases, it can take anywhere between two and three semesters to get them up to the calculus level.
“Our goal is to get these students into Math 123 (pre-calculus) over the summer,” said Dellaposta. “This would be a rigorous course of study over a three-week period that would allow them the opportunity to get credit for pre-calculus, allowing them to get that much closer to their peers in terms of math level.”
Advising is really the heart of the AOI program, so being able to communicate to students the information they need and where they can go for help is crucial. AOI students are made aware of the specific entry requirements needed for the majors that interest them.
“What we did was put in place an advising requirement, so every semester every single AOI student from fall 2008 to the present and continuing on must see an academic advisor at least once a semester,” said Szaraz. “The second part of the advising is the tracking, the follow-up.”
Szaraz admits that sometimes this follow-up requires a more involved, in-depth conversation about a student’s perceived strengths and weaknesses. It helps that Dellaposta and Szaraz both come from mental health backgrounds. They built in a psycho-social component to augment the AOI advising portion.
“We’ve found through some of our surveys and in the regular feedback we receive on a daily basis from our student interactions that this sense of belonging makes a difference for students,” said Szaraz. “They know from day one they are a part of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.”
“I am graduating this semester and can truthfully say that if not for Christine’s help and the AOI program, I most likely would have been on a much rougher road or might have ended up switching majors,” said senior computer science major Emmanuel Akhimienmhona.
The way TLT fits into this picture is that assessment specialist Ying Xiong had a previous working relationship with Kao. Xiong helped Kao measure the effectiveness of some podcasts he had recorded for students in his class, and this research led to a presentation at Texas A&M University, where Kao was approached by a book editor about writing a chapter, which Xiong and Kao co-authored. Already familiar with CEAS’s AOI program, Xiong saw a call for proposals for the CAS grant on a listserv she belongs to and immediately called Kao.
“I called Imin and said, ‘this is a very good opportunity to extend our collaboration and do more in engineering,’ said Xiong. “The CAS standards have been widely used for years in many areas including student affairs, registration, admissions, advising, and student counseling. When they announced this grant opportunity, I knew it was a perfect fit.”
“I really had no idea what educational research looked like until I worked with TLT and Ying,” said Kao. “My research is in engineering and applied technology. This collaboration has broadened my perspective in terms of being more sensitive to the research in education and how that, in turn, can help our students. I think that is very important and TLT provides that function.”
The assessment piece of this project is important, and should prove to be instructive and revealing.
“We want the AOI students to be on par with their peers, but we also need to know whether or not what we’re implementing is working,” said Dellaposta. “We need to do some assessment to find out whether the delivery of the information was done appropriately and to learn whether there are other predictors for success.”
For more information, contact Teaching, Learning + Technology at (631) 632-2775.