News from Academic Affairs

October 2018

A Bridge to Success

By Claudia Moore, Student Assistant, Office of the Provost

Over the past summer, Sonoma State launched an expanded version of Summer Bridge. This program helps historically low-income and first-generation first-time freshman college students as they transition to college. Bridge gives them an opportunity to get to know our campus, build community with their peers, and meet with advisors and faculty before fall classes begin.

In the past, Summer Bridge served only EOP students. This summer, because of charitable donations from Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation and generous gifts from the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the program expanded to include EOP, Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and students from the PUERTA project, which prepares underrepresented educators to become teachers. In total, 187 students got the opportunity to take English and Math classes while also building skills to prepare for the transition to university. The academic emphasis exposed students to data gathering, statistical analysis, college-level writing, and presentation skills. These activities gave students as taste of college course work while also familiarizing them with the campus. This year’s Summer Bridge was a true collaboration and development between both academic and student affairs divisions, which truly met our president’s objectives around refocusing our campus priorities on a student-centered and student-first approach to we service our community.

The academic portion was added as a part of Sonoma State’s Graduation Initiative (GI2025), helping give students a firm foundation for success. Summer Bridge shows an immediate impact on student success and retention for our most vulnerable student populations. Dr. Karen Moranski, Associate Vice President for Academic Programs, stated that "Summer Bridge has a 'ripple effect' by giving students a community to come back to before school even begins and helping them feel connected to others in their first semester." The importance of Summer Bridge is not solely academic; it also helps build lifelong communities.

Summer Bridge Student Leader and third-year SSU student, Ja'Keemah Seals mentored a group of 8-10 first-generation college students in "Team Joy" during Summer Bridge. Ja’Keemah had gone through Summer Bridge . The program gave her a chance to get to know other students and bond with other over a shared experience while build a community, one she is still in close contact with today. Coming back as a Summer Bridge Student Leader gave her the opportunity to give back to the students and the program. One of Ja'keemah's proudest moments as a Summer Bridge Student Leader is when “one of the students said that she didn’t believe she would fit in or even be able to attend [Summer Bridge] at first, and by the end she was so happy to be a part of her bridge team."

Summer Bridge gives students a strong support system to fall back on when times are difficult. Ja'Keemah Seals emphasized the importance of finding a home away from home on campus; "Finding your community is important because your real family isn't here. People who accept you as valid and visible are key to success in college." Ja'Keemah's main goal of Summer Bridge was to build a community for her students. "Even if they didn’t feel like a part of Team Bridge, I wanted them to feel a part of Team Joy." One of the students on Team Joy told EOP leadership: "My Bridge leader Ja'Keemah was the most comforting gentle person I have ever met. She made me feel comfortable and helped me make SSU my home."

It is not only the program that makes Summer Bridge so special; it is its leaders as well. For Ja’Keemah making sure her students would succeed in every part of college life was essential. She went above and beyond and helped her students find on-campus jobs, build resumes, register for classes, and make friends so they could truly be ready for everything once they made the transition to Sonoma State.

In providing an opportunity for all students to achieve success in the Summer Bridge program delivers on SSU’s strategic core values of diversity, connectivity, and adaptability. Summer Bridge helps students from diverse backgrounds prepare for success. Importantly, it also gives incredible students like Ja'Keemah Seals the opportunity to build leadership skills.

Reaching High: Professor Kim Hester Williams

By Mariah Ponce, Student Assistant, Office of the Provost

Professor Kim Hester Williams has co-edited a new volume of impactful essays about diversity and social justice. Racial Ecologies (University of Washington Press, July 2018) explores the responses of communities of color to environmental crises. Taking a global view, the essays explore the ways in which race, gender, nationality, and colonialism continue to shape our communities and our environment. Professor Claire Jean Kim said of Racial Ecologies, "This is a powerful and important book that should be read by everyone concerned with how to understand and address the ecological crisis that is upon us."

Dr. Hester Williams has been at SSU for over 20 years and says that “working at Sonoma State has been nothing but positive.” A specialist in nineteenth-century American literature, she loves helping students understand the past so they can prepare to help create a sustainable, inclusive future. Her commitment to our students is a strong example of our collective dedication to student success and academic excellence at SSU.

Professor Hester Williams’ teaching and writing also embrace our institutional core values of diversity, sustainability, and adaptability. Helping students to become critical thinkers and responsible members of society is not only beneficial to the campus, but to the broader community as well. Through both teaching and research, Dr. Hester Williams is inspiring our students to be leaders and have a transformative impact both on campus and in the world.

Focus on Student Success

Focus on Student Success Sonoma State University has made great strides towards our Graduation Initiative 2025 goals. A recent preliminary report provided by the Chancellor’s Office shows us making remarkable progress towards almost every single goal.

Importantly, 34.8% of first-time, first-year students graduate from SSU in four years. Our transfer two-year graduation rates are improving as well: this year we hit 62.2%! These are among the best graduation rates we have seen at Sonoma State and also among the best in the system. These results would not be possible without the dedication and thoughtful approach to advising and systems improvements that we have as an educational community at SSU. Our students graduate with less debt and in a timely fashion thanks to our commitment to student success.

SSU strives to serve all students with integrity. This includes providing meaningful advising, meeting student demand for required classes, and giving students access to the support services they need to succeed at university. Faculty and staff support our students every day through formal and informal advising sessions, academic experiences, and co-curricular programming. We want to ease the bureaucracy and decrease reliance on paper, so we are also taking a systems-based approach to helping students succeed. New tools to support this effort include: Platinum Analytics for predicting course demand; Tableau for data visualization; and the Student Success Collaborative for individualized advising.

Early Childhood Studies has some of the best four-year graduation rates at SSU. The department’s chair, Dr. Chiara Bacigalupa, has worked collaboratively with her colleagues to create a strong advising and mentor system for all majors. All tenured and tenure-track faculty participate in advising, as do some compensated lecturers. The system provides training for new advisors to learn the ropes and also has checks and balances in place to minimize mistakes. New faculty advisors shadow more experienced advisors before taking over advising sessions on their own. Following the tried and true model used by master teachers nationwide, this approach helps the department support and meaningfully advise large numbers of majors. ECS has some great advising practices that can be replicated throughout the university! Taking a page out of the playbook of Early Childhood Studies may be an option for other departments on campus.

We have a lot of progress to make if we are going to meet all of our GI2025 goals. You can read more about those goals and see our preliminary progress report on the Graduation Initiative Group website.