A Living Example of Transforming Purposely
A Living Example of Transforming Purposely
Alfredo Ramirez, BA ’15, Math and History, Fresno
Karen Cianci, Ph.D., Dean, School of Natural Sciences
My mind often wanders to my past role as lead in the STEM REALM (Retention, Excellence and Adapted Learning Modalities) Title V program, watching incoming FPU students take on the challenges of an education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. I think about how I felt as a high school student entering college at Fresno Pacific. I come from a low-income, Hispanic family, with parents who didn’t make it to high school.
I learned from an early age that I needed to learn how to be a strong student on my own, but I encountered challenges I never saw coming in my collegiate education. I experienced an onslaught of emotions, anxiety, insecurity—so afraid to go into my professor’s office I spent hours upon hours on my math homework. However, over the next four years, I was transformed. From a student who only strived to get a good grade, I became one who was curious and strived to learn. From a timid and fearful person, I became one more confident in himself, less afraid to put himself out there. From a man struggling with his faith, I became one who knew what having a relationship with Christ felt like. Fresno Pacific transformed me with such intentionality, and I am grateful. Now I seek to be part of this transformation in my students.
Like me, many incoming STEM students come from low-income, Hispanic backgrounds, and many are first-generation students. FPU’s summer STEM Learning Community (SLC) was created for these students, who perhaps don’t know what they don’t know, in particular how they control their own success in college. This program encourages an individual competitive edge that STEM fields require, but simultaneously nurtures a sense of community, a learning community, a living out of the body of Christ.
Every summer, FPU invites incoming STEM students, along with their parents and siblings, to an on-campus orientation in July. Parents and siblings get a dose of college STEM life. The students meet their success network, their fellow majors, their faculty mentor and two peer mentors. Together they take a four-week online course designed to prepare them for the rigors of their first year, including developing the right mindset and taking responsibility for their actions. They learn academic skills they then practice with course-specific content in biology, chemistry and math. At the same time, they practice activities for self-care and spiritual formation. The goal is to use the body of Christ, the learning community, to create a network of success for first-generation, low-income and Hispanic students. This community is a support for transformation.
Transformation does happen. For example, students who complete the summer SLC pass general biology at a 67% rate, compared to 47% who pass without the summer program. A student said on a survey: “I did not expect to have a good time because college stuff is stressful, however I enjoyed it and want to possibly do it [in] the following years at FPU to help incoming freshmen…” Here we see the transformation. Not only do these students find learning more enjoyable, but they are immediately thinking about giving back to others.
The SLC is a microcosm of FPU and the many circles of learning that happen across the campuses. As we partner with these students to succeed academically, we prepare them for transformative service to the rest of the body. Our goal is to develop them into young men and women who will take their spiritual gifts into their fields and become salt in the world, a light on a hill, a beacon in the night. When I enrolled in a master’s program at Cal Poly after FPU, I found out the non-academic lessons I learned in my undergraduate years were unique. While I grew during my time in graduate school, this growth does not compare to the transformation I went through at FPU. At Cal Poly, I had to seek that growth for myself; there were few individuals that sought me out to help me. At FPU, the amount of love and attention directed towards me was overwhelming at times. This is what sets this community apart from other universities. FPU is an incubator for true transformation.