Students enter the academy expecting to acquire the knowledge they will need to be successful, contributing members of society. What they often do not anticipate is the personal growth, social skills and leadership traits they will need to complement their intellectual growth. In its efforts to enhance the academic mission of the university, the Student Services Division provides a broad range of programs and services designed to address the needs of students outside the classroom—and to make a difference in their lives. This article shares the stories of several students who have been profoundly affected by the support they received outside the classroom while at CSULB.
When Zachary Wertz was presented with an outstanding athlete award from DSS, he stated, “It doesn’t matter how hard, ambitious or far-fetched my goals, I have learned anything is possible.” Wertz’s professors report that he is well prepared for class and open to feedback. The CSULB senior receives praise for his attitude and sensitivity as a young artist. As a film and electronic media student, Wertz produced Hear No Evil, a 15-min. demo of deaf surfers that received great reviews and was showcased in the 2007 Deaflympics. Wertz also competed as a freestyle snowboarder in the 2007 Deaflympics, where he placed in the top tier for his event. Wertz is a three-time Olympian and has competed in Davos, Switzerland; Sunsduvall, Sweden; and Park City, Utah.
In 2005, scholarship student Eyad Aljubran traveled from Saudi Arabia to pursue his education at CSULB. Aljubran chose CSULB because of the prestigious human resources management program in the College of Business Administration. Numerous people and programs have enhanced Aljubran’s CSULB experience. The Swanson Leadership Resource Center and the Ukleja Center for Ethical Leadership helped him explore leadership. “The Leadership Academy and Jeff Klaus are examples of commitment and support for students,” the honors student says. He also cites Management Professor Tom Sy’s positive motivation and support as playing a key role in his success.
Aljubran is active in many student organizations, including the Associated Business Student Organization Council, the Human Resources Management and the International Student associations and the International Business Honor Society Beta Gamma Sigma. His first year at CSULB, Aljubran dealt with his father’s passing. During this time, he felt supported by his university family, especially his International Student Association peers.
Aljubran expects to graduate in two years and hopes to enter a Ph.D. program in human resources and organizational behavior. He plans to apply his CSULB experiences toward future success.
TA McDonald came to CSULB to study communication disorders, believing that communication was a key component to learning success in autism. As a mother of an autistic child, McDonald was disheartened to discover that due to course availability, her plans had to be altered. “It was during a time of disillusionment that I was accepted to the McNair Scholars Program,” says McDonald. The McNair Scholars Program—a federally funded Student Services Division unit—is an undergraduate research program designed to assist low-income and first-generation college students, or underrepresented groups in graduate study, gain skills to be successful in a Ph.D. program. With the guidance of Clyde Pentz, a professor of psychology and McNair faculty mentor, McDonald conducted original research investigating the amount of instruction devoted to autism spectrum disorders in communication disorders programs in the U.S. In 2005, she presented her findings at the McNair Summer Research Symposium and the Southern California Conference of Undergraduate Research. McDonald’s article, “Speech Language Pathologist Preparation: Comparison of Autism Instruction within Communication Disorders Programs throughout the United States,” was published in The Ronald E. McNair Scholars Journal.
Initially reluctant to pursue a Ph.D., McDonald realized through her experiences with the McNair program that it was financially and academically possible. Says McDonald, “The research skills I acquired were the component I needed to open the door to graduate school.” McDonald saw the program as a “super highway” to post-graduate education. “It takes underrepresented individuals straight into the academic realm and addresses the practical concerns that may inhibit them from pursing a Ph.D. It also gives them a voice, opens up opportunities for intellectual discovery and allows them to engage with the larger world of academia.”
McDonald graduated from CSULB in spring 2007. She was accepted as of fall 2007 into the cognitive psychology Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and will receive continuous support for five years. McDonald intends to devote her life to studying autism and teaching at the university-level.
Maria Mejia Hall was impacted by the Partners program. The Latina first-generation college student had full encouragement from her parents to pursue a college education. Hall’s early years at CSULB consisted of going to class and heading straight home—missing the sense of on-campus community support that she had with family and friends off-campus. Hall was discouraged with college, but she was determined to get through it. Hall’s “Beach” success story began when she met Health Science Professor Britt Rios-Ellis, a mentor in the Partners for Success program. Rios-Ellis began formally mentoring Hall soon after they met.
“Rios-Ellis took me under her wing. She taught me the skills to pursue my career and she showed me that college is not just about going to class and taking exams. She encouraged me to seek out opportunities and get more involved on campus,” Hall says. Hall began volunteer-ing with CSULB’s Latino Health Care Professionals Project. She also graduated from the LHCPP certificate program, directed by Rios-Ellis. While serving on the planning committee for two health conferences, Hall stated, “I learned many skills that will help me in the future and I met many dedicated and passionate people who are willing to fight for a good cause.”
With strong leadership skills, Hall sought out opportunities for campus involvement through Carol Menard-Fulthorp in Student Life and Development. She served in several leadership roles with student organizations and graduated from the Swanson Leadership Academy. She was a member of the SLD alternative spring break team that traveled to Louisiana in 2006 to assist with hurricane rebuilding efforts. “I will always be grateful for the support, guidance and wonderful opportunities that my mentor and the Partners for Success Program gave me, which was a life-changing part of my college experience,” Hall says.
Hall’s story continues to unfold. She joined CSULB’s staff as project coordinator for the Hispanic Serving Institution grant and she plans to pursue graduate work in social work or counseling, both careers in which she hopes to make a difference in the lives of others.
According to Vice President Douglas Robinson, “These students represent a handful of those whose lives have been changed at CSULB. We must continue to strive to be the best if we wish to be a competitive university. Change will always be a constant. We pledge to be vigilant in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of our students.”
It is clear that a key component of student success at the university level is a campus-wide commitment to providing students with a sense of community, coupled with a campus environment in which students feel connected and experience meaningful activities and relationships both inside and outside the classroom. University personnel who—through simple, everyday interactions—instill the sense of belonging are key elements that connect students and make a difference in their daily lives.