In September 2016, California Lutheran University received a $4.63 million grant for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students. This grant also targets minorities at Cal Lutheran, but is not exclusive to such groups.
“It’s overall to help change the culture and focus on the institution,” said Lorenzo Ramirez, director of Access Learning and Leadership Initiatives to Elevate Students in STEM (ALLIES). “It’s open to any students who are typically underserved in the sciences. That includes low income, first-generation, women, and underrepresented minorities.”
With the grant money, Cal Lutheran hired four new ALLIES employees: Ramirez, Peer Assisted Learning Coordinator Brooke Masters, PASOS Outreach Transfer Coordinator Andrea Cruz and ALLIES in STEM Program Specialist Jaynessa Lopez.
Lopez said each worker can help students look into graduate programs, set up tutoring hours, bring in STEM speakers and explore research opportunities.
“We want to see our STEM students be successful and to enjoy their experience while at Cal Lutheran,” Lopez said. “I think that’s the main theme because being in the STEM field can be very stressful and overwhelming, so I want these students to know that we’re here to help them in whatever way they need and that they’re not alone. They have a direct resource now on campus to succeed.”
Through this past year, the STEM grant has brought multiple new aspects to the Cal Lutheran campus, one of them being a STEM summer academy.
In this three-week program, students live on campus and are paired with STEM faculty members to work on various projects and perform research which they then present at a symposium.
“I worked with four additional faculty members, John Deisz, Chris Brown, Jason Kingsbury and Michele LeBlanc, to develop a robust curriculum for STEM Academy,” said Paloma Vargas, HSI Initiatives Director and Assistant Professor of biology at Cal Lutheran in an email interview.
The project, in collaboration with Dr. Brown, focused on mathematics in ecology. Dr. Brown and Vargas showed 15 students how to develop a transect survey, collect data and analyze said data.
“Dr. K focused on chemistry with eight students, and Dr. D and LeBlanc focused on physics and biomechanics with 14 or so students,” Vargas said in an email interview.
According to Ramirez, the academy served 40 high school, transfer, and community college students last summer, 30 of which had the intent to attend Cal Lutheran.
“My biggest hope for ALLIES in STEM is that we are able to provide much needed resources and opportunities for students majoring in STEM disciplines,” said Vargas in an email interview. “More specifically, I hope to see students from traditionally underrepresented groups benefit from ALLIES in STEM project activities.”
Cal Lutheran originally received this grant after gaining the title of “Hispanic Serving Institution.” According to Ramirez, this means that the university’s population consists of over 25 percent Hispanic students.
“I’m really excited because [ALLIES in STEM] gives our students a sense of belonging and a family on campus,” Lopez said. “It gives them a place where they can relate to others that look like them, that maybe talk like them, that have similar backgrounds to themselves, and to feel like they’re not alone.”
After the grant ends in five years, ALLIES does not want these new resources to simply disappear. Ramirez said that they would try and build a sustainable aspect to the new programs by renovating a new building to become an ALLIES center and setting up funding for future research.
“The ALLIES in STEM project is a great opportunity for the Cal Lutheran community,” Vargas said in an email interview. “We’ll have more tutoring in STEM, more robust instructional support via supplemental instruction, and a physical space to build community. ALLIES in STEM will also allow us to fund more students to participate in faculty-mentored research, internships, DA-ships, tutor and student worker positions.”
These are the positions that, Ramirez hopes, will spur on future students to continue researching and working in the STEM fields.