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Vol 57 No. 10 : May 18, 2005
Vol 57 No. 10 | May 18, 2005

SAS Center Continues Its Focus on Student Success

Roger Bauer and Henry Fung

Roger Bauer (l) and Henry Fung

When the late Jim Jensen, former dean for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (CNSM), submitted a proposal for a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant in the early 1990s, he built into it the establishment of a center. That center, now known as the James L. Jensen Student Access to Science and Mathematics Center (SAS) since its renaming and dedication in May 2004, has been carrying out his vision of student support ever since.

Jensen, known as an extremely strong supporter of students, saw a particular need for a center to assist those studying in the sciences, eventually including those in mathematics as well. More than ever, the center continues its support, preparation and advancement of students in all fields of science and mathematics through active participation in research, training programs and student community building programs.

"In the early 1960s, scientists were so focused on what they were doing, that most did not take the opportunity to communicate what they were doing, the significance of what they were doing and the benefits that might be derived from their work," said Henry Fung, associate dean for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics who, along with former CNSM Dean Roger Bauer, serves as co-director of the center.

"So often I think science students are thought of as nerds," said Fung, "but if you take a look at the general population, the number of people in the sciences is really small. Your survival and success in that field is going to be dependent upon your ability to communicate. In order to get support, like anything else, you have to be able to clearly communicate what it is you are doing."

Along those lines, much student work is, in a sense, done in a vacuum, with many of their successes unknown to the outside world. Fung pointed out that learning communicative skills is important for all students, but is essential for scientists. If the work is important, he reasoned, but you cannot clearly describe it, well, chances are interest in it will be minimal. That is one of the reasons the SAS Center was created.

An equally important reason for the center's establishment was to give students in the discipline a place to go and feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging. It also provides orientation programs – Science Safari to Success for freshmen and Enrollment and Orientation in the Natural Sciences for transfer students – which provide incoming students declared in a math or science major to become more familiar with the programs, facilities, faculty, staff and students within the college.

"When a student comes to the campus for the first time it can be really overwhelming," said Fung. "There really wasn't, until President Maxson arrived, a real sense of community on this campus. When the center first began we really wanted to key on developing a sense of community among the students; a real support system for the students. If we are interested in developing a whole individual by the time they graduate, then we really need to develop the other aspects of each student so that they have a strong portfolio, not only in their academics, but other things to be a success as well."

Because of the importance of student exposure to and participation in research, the SAS Center offers a wide variety of opportunities to exhibit their efforts through funded programs, most often working with faculty. Also, the center manages eight various programs that benefit students directly including Alliance for Minority Participation, Bridges to the Baccalaureate (funded by the National Science Foundation), Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Minority Access to Research Careers (funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences – NIGMS), Orientation, Peer Mentors, Research Initiative for Science Enhancement (funded by NIGMS), Robert Noyce Scholarship and Science Enrichment.    

"There needs to be some visibility to their work," noted Fung. "You can think you or your students are great, but you have to have people on the outside who understand that too. The center helps with communication skills and it also helps with leadership skills. It gives them the opportunity to get out and think about their world outside of science and how is it they need to work and communicate in the real world in order to be competitive; in effect to try and break down this 'nerd' concept."

When the SAS center opened, the college already had programs in place and most of those were to support undergraduate research opportunities and help in the development of underrepresented students as defined by the National Institutes of Health. Fung estimates that hundreds of students have come through the center, which is seen as an umbrella organization to help coordinate all the student development through the various grants, thus pooling resources to provide programs for students.

"What we really wanted to do was create opportunities for all the majors in the college, not only the underrepresented,” said Fung. “The Howard Hughes grant allowed for curricular changes in the life sciences and in chemistry. It gave us a real boost and they gave us all the money up front. We were fortunate in that the grant did not specifically identify specific students. More importantly, it allowed us the opportunity to offer all students a real avenue to become involved."

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