STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

“Looking Back” Blog Series: Improving Retention through Student Learning Communities at San Jose State University

“Looking Back” Blog Series: Improving Retention through Student Learning Communities at San Jose State University

Here at STEP Central, we continue to work toward facilitating a community of practice among STEP grantees by highlighting project successes and learning from mistakes.

For this blog, I spoke with Maureen Scharberg of San Jose State University’s
“Improving Retention through Student Learning Communities” grant. Maureen spoke to how she and other project leaders worked to create a culture of student success and accountability across campus. She also shared advice for grantees that may be facing project challenges. Here are her top three tips for facilitating a successful project.

1. Focus especially on first-year students.
Maureen’s project enhanced a “First Year Experience” FYE class. One of the activities includes monitoring first-year science students in lower division classes to identify struggling students and advise them appropriately. Additionally, all STEM majors attend mandatory academic advising sessions each semester. This has ultimately increased student retention, especially among underrepresented students.

2. Continually collect and assess project data to make careful choices of activities.
After the grant ended, a campus-wide tool ,  “student success milestone dashboard” (, was developed by SJSU’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness & Analytics that provides a snapshot of students by department. This tool allows faculty and staff to monitor academic trends and make adjustments when necessary.  “I’m very data-driven. I know how to dig deep into records and I can share that with my colleagues,” says Maureen. “We all work together to make sure that our students are succeeding.”

3. Institutionalize and expand project outcomes.
Maureen’s project created advising and success centers in six out of seven colleges across campus. The centers serve as central locations for students to find resources and answers to their questions. By institutionalizing this effort, the project is able to reach “ghost STEM majors” who may be taking STEM classes in other departments as part of the general education requirement. Faculty across the university all work together to ensure that undeclared students receive the help that they need, whether those students are considering a major in STEM or not.