New initiative smoothes path to graduation for health and science students

SF State is developing a program called the Causeways Initiative to help create a graduation pathway for incoming undergraduate health and science students.

Dean of Undergraduate Education and Academic Planning Jennifer Summit said the initiative was created to address problems with low graduation rates and high dropout rates in impacted health majors.

“We wanted to make it possible for students to complete their degrees in time and to make it easier for students to select and get into the courses they need,” said Summit. “We also want to give them support while they’re thinking through what they should major in and what their goals are.”

Summit believes by expecting students to identify major before being admitted, the University makes it harder for them to succeed.

“Research shows us, both on this campus and nationally, that students do better when they’re given space to really reflect on their goals and how they line up with majors that the University offers,” said Summit

Up to 35 percent of undergraduates leave SF State before completing their degrees, according to the spring 2016 newsletter from the division of undergraduate education and academic planning. By reorganizing prerequisite lower division courses with opportunities for career exploration and advising, the initiative strives to help students continue seeking their degrees while setting major career goals along the way.

The initiative will also reevaluate the student learning outcomes, expectations and coursework of undergraduate students, in hopes that more will continue on with their education past the lower division level.

Leaders from the College of Health and Social Sciences and the College of Science and Engineering met four times this summer to discuss how departments can redesign introductory courses and student learning outcomes.

The meetings also focused on the importance of advising programs to help guide students through the the introductory years of college.

“We can talk about student learning outcomes all day long and we can change our GE courses. But a student’s success is not only based on what happens in the classroom, it’s also how they are supported outside the classroom,” said psychology lecturer Mary Hughes Stone, who participated in the department meetings for the Causeways Initiative.

Summit agrees that an involved advising program could help students overcome barriers towards graduation.

“Our advisement system really needs to be strengthened and become more student focused,” said Summit. “We have excellent advisors but I would say that our university system of advising is not integrated and coherent in a student-friendly way. So it’s easy for students to lose their path.”

Psychology student Martin Bustamante believes that the Causeways Initiative will work best if students can receive easy access to counselors and advisors, that will help make coming into the university system less jarring.

“If it’s done right, it will help take away some of the shock that’s associated with entering a university,” said Bustamante. “By giving students significant context that helps them feel comfortable in a college environment, as well as giving them resources like who to talk to and what is available to them.”

Bustamante met with program officers of the Causeways Initiative to speak about his experience in a first-year college program at Pasadena City College. Summit credits advocate students like Bustamante for helping the initiative find funding.

The DUEAP’s spring newsletter also reported a $500,00 grant from the Keck Foundation, with which it plans to create seminars for students that will inspire career and major development. Redeveloped courses are expected to be offered fall 2017, with an accompanying seminar each semester that will inspire career and major development.

Lori Beth Way, who will be stepping in as interim dean of UEAP after Summit, was appointed as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs on Aug. 8th, will take on a leadership role for the Causeways Initiative overseeing it as it kicks off next year.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story wrongly stated that Mary Ann Begley would be stepping in as interim dean.

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