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BESST Students Receive Virtual Orientation

Published August 13, 2020

In years past, students joining the Beach Engineering Student Success Team would spend the five-day Summer Academy getting to know the CSULB campus and each other, an experience capped off with a boat ride and tours of local industries.

This year, the three dozen freshmen entering the cohort-based program got to know each other via Zoom instead of by completing icebreaker exercises on the lawn outside College of Engineering buildings.

They received the same advice about successfully transitioning from high school to their first year of college from College of Engineering Outreach Director Saba Yohannes Reda, who manages the program. And the same presentations from advisors and other support staff.

But this year's Summer Academy also included a few Zoom pointers. Lecturer Andrea Johnson, who teaches Calculus, said students shouldn't be embarrassed about interrupting. "Interruptions are just something that happens on Zoom," she said.

She also stressed the importance of periodically taking a break from the computer screen. "Look up and around. Let your gaze be far. Do some neck rolls. Stand up and stretch. Do some twists," said Johnson, who also teaches yoga.

Johnson, who goes by Ms. Dre, also delved into neuroplasticity and the learning process. "The transition from high school to college is a very exciting one. You're actually trying to do things you haven't done before," she said, adding that it's important to have a growth mindset, be comfortable learning collaboratively, feel free to make and learn from mistakes, and  enjoy a sense of belonging.

Learning new things might be compared to going to the gym. "You may even sweat out of your eyes," said Johnson. "It's called crying."

Now in its seventh year, BESST was developed by the College of Engineering to improve students’ academic performance and increase their ability to graduate in four years. Students receive supplemental tutoring, take designated classes, receive priority registration, and proceed in a cohort throughout the year.

"This is a very great opportunity you have," said Antonella Sciortino, acting Associate Dean of Academic Programs. "We are here to support you. We are here to make sure you are successful and will have a great experience here at CSULB."

Students heard from Borja Leon, managing director of D'Leon Consulting Engineers and a member of the COE Dean's Advisory Council. After graduating with his civil engineering degree, Leon worked for Caltrans for five years, then the City of Los Angeles, ending up as a top transportation deputy under mayors Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti.

"It's important, personally for me, for all of you to succeed," said Leon, adding that his first year of college at University of California Davis was trying until he connected with a mentor who helped him pass his English class. "What BESST does do is bring everybody together. I didn't have that."

Leon, who is a licensed professional engineer, applauded the incoming students for choosing engineering. "I don't think there's any other degree that will provide the opportunities as engineering. There will always be a job. You guys are on the right track," he said.

He warned them not to underestimate the importance of communication. "English is important to communicate with colleagues and your boss and to make presentations. Presenting to a large group of people is very important to your career," Leon said.

Rancho Santa Margarita-based Applied Medical, which typically provides BESST students with a tour of their facilities, this year offered a virtual tour instead. Applied Medical Vice President and General Manager Matt Petrime, a CSULB alumni, was joined by Jane Cho, Maggie Aquino, and Dan Spross.

Will Pomerantz, Virgin Orbit Vice President of Special Projects, offered a video tour of his company's facilities. Pomerantz also explained his company's goal to produce small, inexpensive satellites that could be launched from under a wing of a Boeing 747.