STEM Central

A Community of Practice for NSF STEM Projects

Critical Elements of STEP-funded Projects at San Jose State University

The one-page summary below is part of a larger "STEPping into the Future White Paper" effort being led by current and previous STEP PIs. With the discontinuation of STEP and the implementation of IUSE, the "STEPping into the Future” effort reflects upon what we have learned from implementing STEP projects, and compiles collective knowledge to guide future decisions. All STEP PI’s are invited to submit short summaries of why the STEP program was/is valuable to their institutions. The working group will organize the summaries into a white paper, which form a basis for a publication in the Chronicle for Higher Education, and will be adapted and targeted toward decision-makers in NSF, Congress, and elsewhere.

We invite you to join by submitting a one-page summary to STEPCentral. To post a summary, log into STEPCentral and navigate to the STEPping into the future working group (, then click the ADD RESOURCE or DISCUSSION button. Guidelines for submitting a summary can be found here:

The Impact of our NSF STEP Grant at San José State University

Submitted by: Maureen Scharberg (co-PI of our NSF STEP Grant (06-53260) and Associate Vice President, Student Academic Success Services and Professor of Chemistry)

The major outcome from this STEP grant was to create a STEM student success “ecosystem” that provided many different resources and support for our students. There were three main objectives for our grant and we achieved each objective. The first objective was to expand and enhance academic and career advising to entering students. The second objective sought to provide professional development opportunities for faculty who teach STEM “gateway” courses and the third objective was to immerse STEM majors into comprehensive learning communities.

Highlights of best practices: We created a College of Science Advising Center (COSAC) that provides a “one shop stop” that provides academic advising, career services, tutoring and time management and study strategies assistance. Both the Colleges of Science and Engineering have mandatory academic advising each semester to make sure students are making progress to their STEM degree. We also modified our existing transfer First-Year Experience course to assist STEM students on probation. Our frosh First-Year Experience course set the stage for a frosh learning community. For faculty, we provided release time for small groups of faculty to study relevant literature, attend professional conferences and develop/implement curriculum that promoted active learning in their “gateway” courses. The Math Department created supplemental instruction workshops, starting with pre-calculus and then expanded to calculus, college algebra and business calculus during the grant period. Computer Science faculty stopped traditional lectures and changed their introductory computer science curriculum to active learning labs with short lectures. Our STEP grant created opportunities for student leadership that included peer advisors, tutors and mentors.

Key project elements that could not have been accomplished without STEP funding: Our STEP grant allowed us to provide a comprehensive approach to increase STEM student services and to offer faculty professional development opportunities for curricular development in “gateway” courses. Typically, without external funding, faculty would not have the time to study literature, work together to develop curriculum and then implement new approaches. Our STEP grant catalyzed the creation of our College of Science Advising Center and the student leadership opportunities through peer advising, mentoring and tutoring. We also were able to study our retention data and research trends in STEM student success. We had discussed opening an advising center previously, but we did not have funding in place to pull all the pieces together.

Measurable, documentable changes that have occurred at San José State University (SJSU): Our first-year retention rates in the College of Science have increased while the number of students on probation or disqualified have decreased. In fact, the College of Science first-year retention rates continue to be higher than university-wide first-year retention rates, including those for first-generation students. Besides undergraduate research opportunities in the College of Science, students have opportunities for peer advising, tutoring and supplemental instruction workshop leaders. Faculty who teach “gateway” courses continue to carefully monitor their student success, especially noting non-STEM majors who might be potential STEM majors. These students are identified and provided with intrusive academic advising.

From an institutional perspective, when College of Science Advising Center opened, it was only the second college-wide advising center. Today in 2014, six of the seven colleges at SJSU have college advising centers. Each center is a bit different from each other, but they still provide a “one-stop shop” for students and a centrally located in buildings that house a majority of the college’s curriculum. Also, the NSF STEP grant helped catalyze a campus-wide change in student success at SJSU with the creating of a new Academic Affairs unit, Student Academic Success Services. This unit coordinates academic success services for the campus, professional development opportunities for faculty and staff advisors as well as student retention, matriculation and graduation data analysis. Our Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics created a Student Success Milestone electronic dashboard for both our freshmen and transfer cohorts that allow us to monitor undergraduate progress to degree.

Future NSF funding priorities: NSF needs to continue funding exemplary research-based high impact practices that do increase STEM student success. Best practices at one institution may need to be modified before implementing at other two-year and four-year institutions in order to be successful, especially given the changing demographics of STEM students. To increase STEM student retention and graduation rates, comprehensive approaches are needed throughout a student’s academic career, not just at the beginning of a student’s academic career as a STEM major. Data analysis needs to be thorough and deep so an institution understands where the issues are and provides proactive responses and interventions as issues arise. STEM student success in higher education is based on “ecosystem” that is dynamic, data-driven and interactive, involving students, faculty, staff and administrators.