Cal State Long Beach mechanical engineering senior Allan Rojas always knew he wanted to do something related to invention. However, he didn’t have a chance to take engineering classes until his final year of high school.
“I realized that after taking that, it was everything I wanted to do,” he said. He was hooked and said he wanted to pursue anything related to engineering in college.
Rojas found out about Beach Engineering Student Success Team, which has been a program in the College of Engineering for seven years, and decided to sign up. First-year engineering students can opt into the year-long program to enhance their education through tutoring, mentors and extra guidance.
The group of about 50 students generally consists of underrepresented and first-generation students whose math preparation is not at the calculus I level.
“The passing rate is higher in my BESST classes than my other classes,” calculus lecturer Andrea Johnson said. “There are certain students each semester that I know if they took a regular calculus class, they would have a very difficult time getting through because of their prior experience with high school, with math or participation in class.”
Johnson said that the cohort model of BESST, in which students attend classes and tutoring sessions as a group, not only helps students succeed academically, but aids in creating a positive mindset, gaining leadership skills and maintaining a social life outside of class.
“This is such a support system for these students,” she said. “You see such a turnaround with particular individuals, it’s incredible.”
BESST has two tracks: one for pre-calculus and another for calculus I. Each group has around 25 first-year students.
For freshman biomedical engineering student Anaya Blade, the extra tutoring in calculus proved beneficial. In her high school AP calculus class, she said she bombed.
“I’m not afraid to tell people that,” she said. “It helped me realize that I’m not invincible, stuff happens.”
Blade is the first in her family to attend a university. She was part of the first class to graduate from the Sato Academy of Math and Science in Long Beach, which has engineering and health science requirements for freshmen.
Her experience at Sato changed her life, she said.
“When I found out what biomedical engineering was, I was like ‘This works out perfectly,’ ” said Blade, who took a liking to both engineering and biology. “I can combine two things I’m really interested in, get a degree in it and go about my education that way.”
The classroom dedicated to BESST students has a maximum capacity of 25. College of Engineering Director of K12 Outreach and Recruitment Saba Reda, who oversees BESST, said the program could serve twice the number of students, approximately 80 per year, if funds could be secured for a larger study room.
“The retention rate is a lot higher with BESST,” Reda said about the College of Engineering. “With a bigger facility, we could take on more students and increase the retention rate even more.”
Both Blade and Rojas said that being involved in BESST has enhanced their college experience.
“This program is helping make the future,” Blade said. “All of these resources are going into making people better … We are the next generation to step into the field and to create and do things that are going to help us in the long run.”
After completing the program, Rojas, who will graduate in Spring 2020, became a tutor for BESST and has been able to help new groups of students tackle their first year of engineering.
“It fills my heart with joy to know that I’m inspiring the people who are going to make the future a better place for everyone,” Rojas said.
BESST is funded by outside donations. To help support the program and its scholarships, visit the College of Engineering’s Giving page.
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