Key Components

Students in a lab

The grant supports four core components, each of which was carefully designed based on evidence from previous studies and from an assessment of Humboldt's challenges to meet the needs of a diversifying incoming study body.

1. Place-Based Learning Communities at Humboldt

A more holistic and hands-on approach to education, place-based learning communities immerse students in the cultural, political, social, natural aspects of “place,” which can include the local community or natural environment.

This component offers an innovative model for integrating student services and STEM curriculum by framing them around common place-based learning communities, centered on interdisciplinary themes woven throughout a student’s first year.   

Our place-based learning communities involve five integrated activities all woven around the place-based theme: (1) a summer immersion experience, (2) a STEM-based first-year seminar, (3) STEM peer mentors, (4) linked gateway courses, and (5) optional themed on-campus housing. The interdisciplinary theme of each community will be woven into activities, involving students in big questions and enabling them to see first- hand how various disciplines are vitally interconnected, thereby building a community of learners.

In fall 2020, we built short StoryMaps for each of the five integrated activities, describing each in more detail and providing evidence and student testimonials:

o   PBLC Overview StoryMap

o   Summer Immersion StoryMap

o   Cohorted Block Scheduling StoryMap

o   SCI 100 StoryMap (our Freshmen-Year Experience Course)

o   RAMP Peer Mentors StoryMap
o   Themed Housing StoryMap


We have built five place-based learning communities over the life of the award to that now reach 90% of all incoming STEM freshmen.

  • Klamath Connection: A pilot program—Humboldt’s Klamath Connection—established in 2015-2016, the Klamath Connection introduces freshmen from many of the most popular Humboldt science majors (Biology, Botany, Zoology, Wildlife, Environmental Science, Fisheries, Environmental Resources Engineering, Environmental Science & Management) to their fields by focusing on the Klamath River.

    Over the academic year, the students take science and general education courses and participate in activities to understand the relationships between science, engineering, the natural environment, and local Native tribes. A cohort of students work closely with each other and with faculty and staff to understand the Klamath experience together.

  • Stars to Rocks: Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics, and Geology majors. Launched 2017-2018.
  • Rising Tides:  Oceanography majors and Marine Biology concentration majors. Launched 2018-2019.
  • Among Giants: Biology, Botany, and Zoology majors. Launched 2019-2020.
  • Representing Realities: Math & Computer Science. Prepared to launch 2020-2021.

2. Enhanced tutoring and coaching services for gateway STEM courses integrated into the new Humboldt Learning Commons

The Humboldt Learning Center provides tutoring, mentoring, and supplemental instruction on our campus. Though students across campus benefit from the existing services, the achievement gap for URM students remains significant for many gateway courses.  Activities are offered at many locations on campus, which has created confusion for students trying to obtain services.

We propose a dramatic restructuring of the Learning Center to improve the support of students in STEM gateway courses in which students from underrepresented backgrounds have lower success. Learning Lab tutoring services will be modified to include retrieval based study practices, and their number increased to service core gateway STEM courses.

These services will be more accessible and better integrated in the complete student academic experience through the new Humboldt Learning and Information Commons—a library area that will provide students with peer-to-peer learning spaces that model and support synergies between active learning, research, student support services, and technology.

3. Re-imagined developmental math curriculum

The third component is an effort to expedite the path to college-level math courses required for STEM majors by enrolling students identified as needing math remediation into a first semester college course and a new co-curricular math support course.

At the start of the grant in 2016, incoming STEM freshmen were placed based on math placement exams, into one of four modes of math instruction: developmental math (Math 44); college algebra (either a two semester sequence Math 113/114 or an accelerated single semester course Math 115); or calculus (Math 105 or 109, depending on major, mainly physical vs. life science).

Of all incoming STEM students, 27% require developmental math, and enrolling them in Math 44 before advancing to other courses marginalizes them and slows their progress toward degree completion.  

This grant helped propel a new model: to enroll students needing developmental math into a College Algebra course (Math 101) and a new co-curricular math support course (Math 101i). Staying with many of their peers in Math 101 will help students foster a more inclusive sense of community and enable more rapid progress toward degrees.

The format of the co-requisite course is a two-hour weekly workshop where students work individually and in small groups on a sequence of mathematical tasks that support deeper understanding of the foundational concepts and processes that support the college algebra curriculum.

For example, when students in college algebra are learning how to use exponential and logarithmic functions to model common phenomena (growth, decay, non-linear measurement systems, etc.) that they will encounter in their science courses, the co-requisite remediation workshops will focus on the properties of exponents and logarithms, and computations involving both in applied contexts.

Each workshop will also give students a chance to discuss their understandings, and identify specific topics that they are finding difficult, allowing the workshop instructors to tailor their curriculum to meet the learning needs of their students as the semester progresses. Moreover, the instructors of the co-requisite remediation workshops will be faculty who have taught both the traditional remediation courses and college algebra or pre-calculus courses.

4. Strengthened relationships and streamlined articulation agreements with three 2-year HSI institutions

The goal of this component is to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students successfully transferring into STEM disciplines at Humboldt, and to increase the percent of them ready to enroll in 300-level gateway courses in their first year.

This component involves partnering with three two-year HSI community colleges in California: Santa Rosa Junior College, Reedley College (Bakersfield area), and Palmomar College (near San Marcos).

These institutions were chosen for several criteria. They have large numbers of Hispanic and low-income students and are among Humboldt’s top “feeder” schools for sending transfer students, yet the number of Hispanic and low- income students transferring from these institutions to major in STEM disciplines at Humboldt is relatively low, allowing marked capacity for increases.  In addition, these institutions occur in three regions, providing a geographic spread to our experimental partnerships.

This core activity involves four steps:

  1. Conduct a collaborative inventory of existing course articulations from each community college to each STEM major at Humboldt. This work will clarify the most efficient “pathways” for students from each community college to each of Humboldt’s STEM majors. This information will help the community college counselors and Humboldt’s admissions office to “get on the same page.” This work will also be used to develop new recruiting and informational materials (online and print) for each community college.
  2. Launch new recruiting and outreach efforts, with two strategic visits to each partner community college by a team of Humboldt’s STEM faculty, a new staff STEM Transfer Coordinator, and Humboldt undergraduate ambassadors (successful transferred students). These visits will be timed to ensure community college students receive information prior to registration so that students enroll in the appropriate transferable courses, and other visits will be timed to provide “instant admit” of students to Humboldt. At Humboldt’s “Spring Preview”, an on-campus welcoming invitation for prospective students, we will launch a new reception specifically for prospective transfer students in STEM, with the STEM Transfer Coordinator, STEM Humboldt faculty, and student ambassadors in attendance to provide encouragement and answers to questions from prospective students.

  3. Provide incentive funds for community college and Humboldt STEM faculty to modify existing courses to enable new articulations of key “missing and broken links” identified by the inventory of courses. This will help build on the growing relationship between Humboldt and these target institutions, propelling overdue work to better align our STEM curricula.

  4. Launch new transfer workshops, leading ultimately to a new one-unit transfer first semester seminar courses, arranged by the same clusters of majors as the freshmen-level learning communities (i.e., natural resources, engineering, physical sciences, marine sciences, and life sciences). These seminars will share some content with the freshmen year seminars, but they will focus more on community building within the major, career awareness (featuring professional visitors), and awareness of campus resources. Currently, Humboldt’s only transfer orientation is online; the seminars we propose will be more effective and welcoming because they will assemble transfer students in similar majors together to meet faculty and learn about career opportunities. A couple of majors already have these in place (i.e., Forestry and Wildlife), and they are cost-effective (20-60 student sections); this proposal will expand this model to all incoming STEM transfers.