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By Cecilia Leyva, Nov. 16 2021

With the support of Hispanic-serving institution grants over the past three years, Cal Poly Pomona’s Project CAMINOS, is on its third cycle of serving an average of 120 incoming students and is prepared to continue its mission as the California State University’s Nov. 30 application for fall 2022 approaches.

The program’s six-week summer course, Bronco Scholars, is designed for incoming high school students who were accepted to the university and need extra support in areas such as English and especially math. The fully residential program provides students with necessary courses, mentoring and academic coaching as well as supplies like books, calculators and computers, all free of charge.

Upon college acceptance, incoming students are placed in education-based categories to determine a student’s level of necessity for additional help. Those who fall in the fourth category are required to take part in an early start program. Those students also become eligible for Bronco Scholars. Prior to Project CAMINOS, those students were required to take up to three non-credit-bearing math or English courses to catch up.

“It was a huge barrier toward making progress toward their degree and also psychologically,” said Associate Provost for Student Success, Equity, and Innovation Terri Gomez. “It was like they were being told they are good enough to be accepted to campus but not good enough to receive credit for their courses.”

After what Gomez described as a “bold move,” the CSU system removed the remediation classes across all 23 campuses. Shortly thereafter, the Office of Student Success applied and received a $3 million Title IV grant for Project CAMINOS, with a goal of increasing the number of students served each year by 25%.

“Ever since we got the funding, we hit the ground running trying to get every component of the program situated,” explained Project Coordinator for Project CAMINOS Cynthia Avina-Tejeda. “The first component is the outreach portion, the second is the transition of students into their first year and the third component is the professional development of the instructors.”

The first step in the trifold plan is hosting outreach workshops in local high schools within the Pomona Unified and Chaffey Unified school districts, as well as local community colleges, to attract and inform potential students of the resources available. Project CAMINOS also offers financial literacy workshops for the parents of the Bronco Scholars.

The second component comes after the student has been accepted into the university. If eligible, the student can take the necessary classes on their own accord or become a part of Bronco Scholars. Though the program only takes place during a limited period, the resources and support remain available for the duration of the first year.

The third aspect is working with the faculty who will teach the courses and hosting professional development workshops. The courses touch upon topics on equity mindedness, race consciousness and how to design the courses.

“It really helps the instructors improve their teaching and better understanding the students that they have and how to better support them,” said Gomez. “If you want to change the trajectory of what’s happening with high failure rate courses, you have to work with the students and with the faculty.”

Prior to the Bronco Scholars program, the early start college-level courses such as algebra and statistics saw high failure rates of 30%. Even while working virtually through a pandemic, the program saw an 8% failure rate in the courses, according to Gomez.

While Bronco Scholars has seen positive trends with its students, for Avina-Tejeda the greatest benefit is the accessibility to resources.

“The goal is for students to have a really smooth transition into college,” said Avina-Tejeda.  “Most of the students are first-generation students who are having to navigate this without much help from parents. It really gives the students a head start with the end goal being graduation.”

For Alejandra Arevalo, a Project CAMINOS student assistant, the program is more than just a service offered to students as it aims to teach students crucial information surrounding the Cal State application process, financial aid and proper tools for the college experience.

“A lot of high school students hear this a lot from their teachers and it’s that when you graduate high school, and you move on to college, nobody’s going to be there to hold your hand and walk you through it,” said Arevalo. “However, there are so many resources that we offer at CPP, and one of those is Project CAMINOS.”

With three more fully funded summers ahead, the Project CAMINOS team hopes to demonstrate the benefit this program continues to bring.

“I think if we can show the success of the program over the next three years in particular, we can go back to the university and say this is worth the investment and deserves to be funded permanently,” said Gomez.

Feature image courtesy of Alejandra Arevalo

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