Good News Comes in Threes


October 9, 2020

By Walter Ryce

The pandemic has not stopped CSUMB’s mission to improve lives through education, with help from grants.

In September, the office of Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) announced more than $1 million in federal grant funding for CSUMB under GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), a $600,000 grant for the PPOHA program (Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans) to prepare Latino CSUMB and UCSC students for graduate studies, and $155 million for Hispanic Serving Institutions in this year’s House appropriations bill.

And he's joined by an array of CSUMB faculty and staff who are delivering money to the campus and local higher education. In the midst of news about the coronavirus pandemic, the sunken economy, and the recent fires, CSU Monterey Bay has received positive news in the form of grant awards that aim resources to where it’s needed, shepherds young people to and through college, and keeps the school’s mission moving forward. Here are three of them.

Grant: Mentorship and Equity in Transitions to Achieve Student Success (METAS) - Recipients: Academic Affairs and Student Affairs - Award: $2,998,804

This is a 5-year grant from the Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program of the Department of Education that helps HSI schools expand educational opportunities, and improve degree attainment, for Hispanic, low-income and transfer students. Those students face equity gaps in transition rates, and the time and rate of graduation.

This grant award breaks down to about $600,000 a year for 5 years, which is the maximum award size. The process of hiring new personnel and planning for implementation began Oct. 1.

Leslie K. Williams, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students, says the grant team has proposed several broad goals including “increasing mentoring by faculty and peers, establishing career and post-graduate pathways, and building infrastructure.”

That translates into specific strategies, like having 1,200 students participate in financial literacy workshops, and 50% of students completing an internship while at CSUMB. These students may have jobs to support themselves or others, so another strategy is increasing evening support services (such as tutoring) and creating schedules in the largest undergraduate majors so students can complete a degree after 5pm.

The end result, according to the grant team, should be more success for transfer students, increases in staying in school, higher degree completion, less debt at the end, more postgraduate prospects, and better employment options. This means, for those who have historically faced higher barriers, a better start to the rest of their adult lives.

These ideas came out of the Otter Promise Committee, and the grant will continue to support the Graduation Initiatives 2025 efforts.

Last year, 223 applications were received for the METAS grant, and 43 were awarded. CSUMB’s grant effort was led by Kris Roney (former Associate Vice President for Academic Programs and Dean of University College and Graduate Studies) and Leslie Williams, while Dan Shapiro is serving as co-director in Roney’s absence.

Grant: National Institutes of Health / National Institute of General Medical Sciences / Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) - Recipients: College of Science and College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences - Award: $1,312,754

This grant is entitled “Science Teaching Through the Arts” and is subtitled “Bringing state-of-the-art environmental health education to youth in agricultural communities.”

It represents collaboration on several levels. The principal investigator is Daniel Fernandez, a professor in the School of Natural Sciences; while the co-principal investigator is Enid Baxter Ryce, a professor in Cinematic Arts and Technology.

The grant was written in collaboration with epidemiological researchers Brenda Eskenazi and Asa Bradman, creators of the landmark study CHAMACOS (Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas).

The grant will enlist partnerships with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey County Office of Education, UC Merced, arts organizations Artists Ink and Baktun 12, and Salinas Valley teachers and students.

The grant is focused most directly on students primarily from farmworker families, 80% of whom are Mexican American. Only 21% of Salinas Unified School District students met or exceeded California’s CAASPP mathematics standards, and just 8% of 11th-grade students reported a high level of opportunity for meaningful school participation.

According to the grant’s abstract, these students face the challenges of “low income, English as a second language, poor housing, violence and gang activity, water contamination, and exposures to pesticides, nitrate fertilizers and other emissions.”

Pollutants from Salinas Valley makes their way to the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay, where they can “circle back” and impact humans. The grant project will enlist these young people, who may be directly impacted, in exploring this connection through a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) curriculum, thereby increasing their environmental health literacy and perhaps inspiring them to pursue study in the sciences.

“This grant represents to me much of what CSUMB stands for,” said Fernandez. “Interdisciplinarity, service to the regional community, enhanced education opportunities for our tri-county students, and engaged learning.”

Grant: National Science Foundation: Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (NSF IUSE) - Recipient: Mathematics and Statistics Department - Award: $600,000

Our society relies on an ever-growing torrent of data and statistics to guide our decisions and to contribute meaningfully to the workplace. It’s important to be able to understand and decipher the deluge—whether it’s statistics related to Covid-19, or polls about coming elections.

The goal of this grant is to understand college students’ attitudes about the subjects, locate the best methodology for teaching introductory statistics and data science, inspire career entry into the field, and, in the long run, create a more data-literate society.

The proposal summary begins by defining its twin subjects: statistics as “the art and science of learning with data,” and data science as the “ability to engage with data in a variety of forms and to extract actionable insights.”

Alana Unfried, assistant professor in the Mathematics and Statistics Department

and the grant’s principal investigator, said she and her colleagues will use the 3-year grant to accomplish their goals through “a holistic approach to measuring the learning environment, including both student and instructor attitudes toward statistics and data science as well as pedagogical practices and university environments.”

This project is titled MASDER, or Motivational Attitudes in Statistics and Data Science Education Research.

There is a special focus on 2-year colleges, and Latinx, Black and female students who are often underrepresented in STEM fields. They expect to reach 500 instructors and 20,000 students. The resulting instruments and datasets—culled from representative samples nationwide, including at CSUMB—will be made publicly available, and may go on to impact multitudes more students across the U.S.

CSUMB undergraduate students will also be employed through the grant as research assistants, doing survey design and validation, data reporting and website design.

There are four co-principal investigators: Michael Posner at Villanova University, Marjorie Bond at Monmouth College, April Kerby at Winona State University, and Douglas Whitaker at Mount Saint Vincent University in Canada.

They are coordinated in this effort to find the best teaching practices to help students become adept at deciphering data as part of a competitive workforce as well as an informed citizenry.