CSUPERB: A System-Wide Biotech Community Promoting Change

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Title of Abstract: CSUPERB: A System-Wide Biotech Community Promoting Change

Name of Author: Susan Baxter
Author Company or Institution: California State University
Author Title: Executive Director
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biotechnology
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Promoting a commitment to change and engaging the biology community in the implementation of change
Keywords: faculty network, seed grants, workshops, undergraduate research

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): James Henderson, CSU Los Angeles

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The California State University (CSU) Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB, www.calstate.edu/csuperb) has adopted recommendations in the Vision & Change Report, specifically the report’s calls to promote a commitment to change and engage the biology community in the implementation of change. CSUPERB is a system-wide ‘affinity group,’ or faculty network that involves and supports over 300 faculty members system-wide each year and operates as a large community of interest and practice. Annually the program involves over 650 students and faculty from life, physical, computer and clinical science, engineering, agriculture, math and business departments at all 23 CSU campuses. Keep in mind, however, the CSU serves over 76,000 science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) students, employs 2478 STEM faculty (439 tenure-track biology faculty), and graduated 10,651 STEM baccalaureates in 2011. CSUPERB’s programs cannot stretch to support all CSU biology students or faculty. System-wide impact and change depends on commitment from campus-based change agents, leaders and external organizations to sustain or institutionalize CSUPERB-supported projects.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: In 2008 we outlined a new strategy to support engaging, ‘high-impact’ educational practices like learning communities, service learning, and undergraduate research that deepen learning as well as improve student persistence and close achievement gaps. We also decided to fund and foster curriculum development projects to support cross-disciplinary collaboration and introductory course revisions. Our two primary tactics were to administer seed grant programs and to organize faculty-led professional development workshops, meetings and conference sessions.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We use final reports, participant surveys and long-term reports to assess whether our programs are effecting change. Data is collected and analyzed to assess numbers of students involved in CSUPERB-supported activities and outcomes (retention in degree program, graduation rates, post-graduate placements), faculty and administrator participation in CSUPERB-organized workshops, sustained implementation of seed grant-funded evidence-based teaching and learning practices in biology departments.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Since 2008 CSUPERB increased funding for student research by 47%, supporting 506 students in faculty-led research groups across California in academic year 2011-2012 alone. The graduation rate of CSUPERB-supported undergraduates is greater than 80% (across all demographics), far exceeding the averaged CSU STEM six-year graduation rates (28% for freshman entering in 2002). The same proportion of CSUPERB-supported students (80%) continue on in life science career paths, whether accepting jobs in the life science industry or entering professional and graduate school programs. CSU faculty mentors retained 91% of CSUPERB-supported summer researchers during the academic year, suggesting those students’ engagement is assured. The averaged fiscal ‘return-on-investment’ in faculty funded by CSUPERB seed grants 2004-2010 is a remarkable 1471%, based on final and long-term reports received as of July 2012. Follow-on funding from sources external to the CSU represents an expansion of student research opportunities across the system. While most biotechnology faculty and administrators understand the importance of high-impact practices outside the classroom on student retention and graduation, the awareness of the need or the commitment to change the way biology is taught inside the classroom is not so widespread. Fewer than 20% of CSUPERB programmatic grant proposals (to support curriculum innovation and revisions) received in 2011-2013 addressed reform of existing courses. Over 80% of 84 CSUPERB (predominantly biology and chemistry) faculty members attending a January 2013 workshop expressed surprise at the lingering achievement gaps in the STEM disciplines, including biology. Fewer than 20% in attendance (faculty, administrators and teaching assistants) at the 2013 workshop were familiar with the Vision & Change Report recommendations.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Challenges faced thus far include mentors’ unwillingness to recruit ‘at-risk’ students into their laboratories or community-based projects, the stubborn lack of commitment to evidence-based teaching and learning practices, and the vexing California budget crisis. CSUPERB crafted a summer research grant program (the Presidents’ Commission Scholars program) to support the participation of ‘at risk’ students or students earlier in their academic career in faculty-led research projects. Students are ineligible if they have support from any other undergraduate research or scholars program (NSF, NIH, HHMI, etc.). It is too early to assess the impact of this program or its effect on campus-based programs. Widely reported practices, reported by 15 of the 23 campuses, include ‘flipped classrooms,’ computational or genomics project-based labs, and multiple modes of learning in high-enrollment and introductory biotechnology-related courses. These campus reports suggest that Vision & Change report recommendations to create active learning environments are gaining traction and adoption; however, intentional, coordinated departmental efforts are not yet the norm. To raise awareness of the need to reform and revise biology curriculum offerings, CSUPERB continues to issue reports, write blog posts, host workshops and offer faculty development opportunities. This spring CSUPERB partnered with other CSU system-wide programs to form a collaborative leadership team, made up of high-level administrators in the CSU Chancellor’s Office, to better align resources and opportunities around effective STEM education efforts. The leadership team is seeking funding to support efforts to reach all levels of the university from part-time instructors to presidents and provosts. It is hoped that external support will raise awareness of the need to improve biology education system-wide, while also allowing for innovation and faculty development in budget-constrained times.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: To disseminate best practices and program data, CSUPERB issues annual reports on its website, organizes an annual system-wide biotechnology symposium, and sponsors professional development opportunities for faculty system-wide. Further, CSUPERB leadership has become more intentionally involved in PKAL, CUR, PULSE and other national efforts to move the needle on curriculum revision efforts and improved undergraduate STEM education.

Acknowledgements: Ken O’Donnell, Senior Director, Student Engagement & Academic Initiatives & Partnerships, CSU Office of the Chancellor; Judy Botelho, Director, Center for Community Engagement, CSU Office of the Chancellor; Koni Stone, Professor, Chemistry, CSU Stanislaus; Michael Goldman, Professor, Biology, San Francisco State University; Katherine McReynolds, Associate Professor, Chemistry, CSU Sacramento; Grant funding from the W. M. Keck Foundation (AAC&U’s Project Kaleidoscope, PI)