Coaching science students for success (video link)

Karen Cianci wears more denim jackets than sweat suits, but when it comes to introducing students to the many phases of science, the dean of the FPU School of Natural Sciences talks like a coach. “I’m not going to expect them to run a marathon without helping them train,” she says.

 Many FPU students are the first in their families to attend university. While this excites Cianci, it also means their picture of science and medicine has been drawn by TV doctor Gregory House. “The gifted kids who are good in science think they’re going to be doctors, based on what they’ve seen in the media,” Cianci says.

That’s when the training starts, first in the fundamentals. “Learn chemistry, learn mathematics,” Cianci says.

At the same time students discover the world of STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—is broader than what they’ve seen in prime time. They have many ways to apply the principles of science to human needs and help others. “That’s the dream of medicine,” Cianci says.  “It isn’t going to be the MDs who are going to fix obesity. It’s going to be the engineers, the chemists, the businesspeople.”

Coaching and training is part of a new five-year, $3.75 million Title V federal grant. FPU and the College of the Sequoias in Visalia are working with Hispanic and low-income high school students who show promise in STEM areas. The grant provides participants a structure to both challenge and support them as they earn a bachelor of science degree.

The first group comprises 14 students, two of whom are FPU president’s scholars. “This is not remedial. These are gifted kids,” Cianci says. They came to campus at the end of June for a bridge program to begin their training for the marathon of university study. One plank of that bridge is Supplemental Instruction—coaching.

Experienced students work with the newcomers in sessions of one hour for every hour they spend in class. Students will also take four classes together each semester.  “The idea is education’s a load of work but we’re going to get through it because we’re working together,” Cianci says. “You can get there from here.”

A marathon may be 26 miles long, but winners run it one step at a time.