Discovery: The CNSM Factor

Fall 2023

A Note from the Dean

Curtis Bennett

Hello and welcome to DISCOVERY: The CNSM Factor. I'm excited to have this newsletter up and running so we can take this time to catch you up on everything in our college. This college has always been committed to advancing student success, and that is simply not possible without your support, whether through individual donations or funded grants.

As I think about our students, I often look back to my first day on this campus. I was speaking with a student when she mentioned being from Pasadena. When I asked her whether she had moved to Long Beach or was commuting, she told me she slept in her car during the week to attend class, and went home on the weekends. Coming from a background where higher education and living on campus was the norm, I was stunned to learn the lengths so many of our students must go to so they can get an education. That was 2017; and our students are now facing more financial instability than ever.

This issue of DISCOVERY highlights the impact scholarships have on our students, faculty, and college overall. These programs are not just about securing students' current academic progress, but also about putting them on a path towards a successful future. Like Dr. Balbas, a co-Principal Investigator in METRIC, I believe CSULB students demonstrate constant resilience. They are strong and they are tough, and when we work together to support them, they are successful. I'm incredibly proud of our students and can't wait to see them become the next generation of leaders in STEM.

The past year has marked many changes, but one thing that will always remain a constant is this college's dedication to our students and their futures. Specifically in this issue we will focus on METRIC (now METRIC 2), which was recently renewed for six years. One of the most important aspects of METRIC is the impact it has beyond financial support – students in METRIC are taught to believe in themselves and trust in their ability.

In addition to METRIC, this issue also highlights the life and work of our long-time donors, John and Elizabeth Leonard in celebration of John's recent retirement. John and Elizabeth's generosity is a driving force behind creating opportunities for our students and we're incredibly grateful for their continued support.

Enjoy and Go Beach!
- Curt

At a Glance

Here are the articles you will find on this page. Use these links to jump to a particular article, or continue scrolling to read them all!

METRIC is Changing the Face of STEM, One Student at a Time

Imagine this: You're a college student. You go to school full-time and work part-time. You make minimum wage and live on your own. You take the bus to school which means you have to get up about an hour earlier than if you drove there. You’re exhausted and maybe you’ve even started skipping meals to save here and there.

According to a recent survey by Trellis Research, that's exactly the reality for many students right now. Three in five students currently face at least one type of basic needs insecurity, with about 10% facing all three (food insecurity, housing insecurity, and homelessness) (Trellis). And that's where METRIC, a National Science Foundation-funded need-based scholarship for academically talented, low-income underrepresented students, comes in.

high fives all around
METRIC students and mentors high-fiving after a successful team-building excercise.

METRIC, or Mentored Excellence Toward Research and Industry Careers, is one of several scholarship programs aimed at helping students in a more holistic way than traditional academic scholarships might. METRIC, along with other CSULB scholarship programs (LSAMP, LEAP, U-RISE, and BUILD, to name a few) serves students in a multitude of ways, honing in on providing students with the research experience they will need in their careers. All these programs address the silent barriers students face in addition to and as a result of financial instability, including housing and food insecurity, lack of transportation, and cultural discouragement. METRIC means to take things even one step further by providing one-on-one faculty mentorship for students.

The program was recently awarded a new and expanded grant, turning METRIC into METRIC 2. METRIC 2 will award scholarships to over 60 undergraduate students that will last up to two years. This will, according to the grant, relieve unmet financial obligations sufficiently to enable the scholars to focus on academic responsibilities and related opportunities. This approach has certainly garnered some attention, with a recent article in Research Features Magazine discussing METRIC's impact on underserved students.

Jen-Mei Chang

The METRIC and METRIC 2 Principal Investigator, Dr. Jen-Mei Chang, plans to ensure the program continues to meet these goals, saying "the most rewarding aspect of directing METRIC and mentoring METRIC students is seeing students reaching beyond their imaginable potentials. The work of METRIC demonstrates that every student can succeed when supported with the right resources and knowledge."

With a career-focused attitude, Dr. Chang positions the notion of student success in a very strategic way: "In METRIC, I imagine a successful student to be someone who is equipped to find happiness and satisfaction in their chosen career and rightfully positioned to contribute to their communities of interest." By allowing students to understand and visualize their potential, METRIC provides students with concrete goals to work towards, and much of that is because of the mentors.

One-on-one mentorship is a hallmark of METRIC, with the goal being to provide guidance beyond the scope of their day-to-day classes. As Dr. Chang puts it, "the program personnel work collaboratively to help students remove barriers, identify resources, and create opportunities." That means helping students apply to graduate school and internships, facilitating student networking and guiding students through research presentations and symposiums to prepare for future conferences.

The results speak for themselves: METRIC alumni have gone on into various levels of graduate school and started careers in fields like data analysis and environmental policy, and, of course, higher education. For many of these students, the most difficult barrier to overcome can be their sense of self. At its core, METRIC is about empowerment and the success that can come from that. When students feel empowered in their education, they feel more empowered to succeed in every aspect of their lives.

METRIC Scholarship Program students, mentors, friends, and family

METRIC Student Spotlight: Hannah

Hannah Fitzpatrick

Q&A with Earth Science Student Hannah Fitzpatrick

What led you to join the METRIC program and what was your application process like?

During my first semester in the Geology [sic] department on campus my professor, Dr. Balbas made sure to make sure everyone in her class had done something during the semester that was going to help them grow. For some it was getting them signed up to do undergraduate research on campus or signed up for summer REUs (Research Education for Undergraduates). For me it was finding financial support so that I could also take advantage of research opportunities.

What about the program has been most impactful to you?

I am a self-supporting student, and I have been in school for a long time because of the balance between meeting my basic needs and trying to be a good student. After my first semester on campus my Cal grant ran out, so basically if it wasn't for the METRIC program, I wouldn’t have been able to afford tuition and get to where I am today (graduating in December and beginning graduate school at CSULB in the spring :D). The METRIC program has also assisted me by providing me with a mentor who I can turn to when I have questions or concerns on how to navigate university, applying for grants and scholarship, and of course helping prepare my application for graduate school. 

Have there been any unexpected impacts - good or bad?

It's been great to get to meet other students at our METRIC mixers. I enjoy the sense of community and belonging that it has given me. I also wasn't expecting my Cal grant to run out, so this was really a game changer for me. METRIC assisted me with my application and prepared me for an interview at my internship with the Water Replenishment District (WRD). I joined [their] hydrogeology department in February and will be staying with them through graduate school. Another unexpected outcome is that I have already begun my research for my graduate thesis. I am working on the Brackish Water Reclamation Project through the WRD. My research is focused on using fiber optic sensor down a well to better characterize the aquifers parameter to aid in the remediation of a historic saltwater plume Torrance, CA.

Hannah Fitzpatrick in the field
Hannah working on fusion of fiber optic cable at PM-07 monitoring well in Torrance, CA.

What are your goals after graduating from CSULB and have those goals changed or evolved throughout your education?

I have been set on working as a hydrogeologist since I transferred to CSULB. When I transferred to CSULB, I had 3 short term goals. First, I wanted to get financial assistance through scholarships and grants, second, I wanted to participate in as much research as possible, and third I wanted to do well in my classes and raise my GPA. Thanks to my self-determination and the METRIC program I was able to do all of that, setting me closer to my dream of working in Managed Aquifer Recharge. Some new milestones I hope to achieve during grad school are obtaining my Geologist in Training (GIT) licensing, applying to more grants and scholarships (I won't have METRIC to lean on anymore) and taking as many opportunities to present my research at conferences as I can.

What lessons from METRIC will you take with you into life/school/work beyond CSULB?

METRIC taught me that I belong and that I do have what it takes to be a part of the scientific community. I am proud of myself and thankful for the METRIC program for welcoming me with open arms and bridging the gap between me and the professional world.

Hannah Fitzpatrick in the field
Hannah at Summer Geology Field Camp at Flaming Gorge Recreational Area in the Uinta Mountains, UT.

Anything else you'd like to add about the program, your mentors, or any message you want to put out to other students who are thinking of applying?

Dr. Andrea Balbas, thank you for believing in me!

To students: You belong, don't listen to the voice in your head that is saying otherwise. Applying to the METRIC program changed my life and gave me a sense of belonging. If you are scared to enter the professional world because you will be the first from your family to do so: Apply and let the METRIC program give you the tools you need to be prepared for life after your undergraduate degree.

METRIC Student Spotlight: Natalia

Q&A with Earth Science Student Natalia Gutierrez

What led you to join the METRIC program and what was your application process like?

I joined the METRIC program because I wanted the opportunity to have a mentor within my department. The application process was not as difficult as I initially thought it would be. It did involve a lot of self-reflection about my past experiences and how I could apply what I learned from them to achieve my goals.

What are your goals after graduating from CSULB and have those goals changed or evolved throughout your education?

After finishing my bachelors in Geology, I plan on continuing my education by pursuing a Master's and then my Ph.D.

What lessons from METRIC will you take with you into life/school/work beyond CSULB?

One lesson I learned from my METRIC mentor was to not let the fear of rejection keep me from applying to amazing opportunities. At the beginning of the year, I was afraid of applying to REU's because I had gotten rejected the previous year. Dr. Balbas encouraged me to spend time on my applications and to not let imposter syndrome tell me I wasn't good enough for them. I eventually did get accepted for research at Penn State and it turned out to be an amazing experience. I got to network with other REU students from different states and it allowed me to complete 8 weeks of research at an R1. I was able to connect with faculty and graduate students at Penn State and it allowed me to find 2 professors with whom I would love to work under for my master's.

METRIC Mentor Spotlight: Dr. Andrea Balbas

Andrea Balbas

Q&A with Earth Science Professor Dr. Andrea Balbas

What pushed you to become a mentor, and what has been the most gratifying aspect of mentorship for you?

As I advanced through my career, I often realized what a big difference certain people made. I became aware that the help of only a handful of people made such a big difference in my life. It was their small moments of kindness and generosity that gave me a chance. Without these people helping me, I don't think I would be where I am today. I want to offer that same type of help to others, especially those from less privileged backgrounds that may only need someone to believe in them.

What have you learned about mentoring along the way? Do you have any special techniques when mentoring or is it always a case-by-case situation?

I try to help students on a case-by-case basis and address their personal goals. Generosity, empathy and tenacity are the attributes need[ed] to be a good mentor and help a student self-actualize.

As a mentor, how do you measure the success of your students?

If my students are still working towards their goals, they are successful. I think it is important to remember that even setting a goal is not easy and certainly remaining diligent and focused in the face of obstacles is superhero level. LOL

What do you think the students get out of METRIC the most?

When any student has to make decisions regarding which basic needs to fill, they are on the verge of sacrificing their education. Self-supporting students and those from reduced resources are making daily sacrifices regarding food and shelter. The METRIC program aims to reduce that pressure. In addition, we are trying to provide a home and CSULB family for them so they have a safe space to ask for help with anything that might be getting in the way of them finishing their degree. We try to build cohorts and safe spaces for our METRIC scholars.

Anything you want to add about Hannah/Natalia!

As with all METRIC students, Hannah and Natalia are tough. They are strong. They have a fortitude that is uncommon in the world where they understand that true strength is to move forward with your kindness, empathy, and compassion intact. They do this while aware that they may face more challenges than those from more privileged backgrounds. This decisive compassion combined with an unyielding work ethic is what makes them unique and particularly valuable as future leaders of a better world. I am proud to know them and having them as students has improved my life.

CNSM Donor Spotlight: The Leonards

Elizabeth and John Leonard

The College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics would like to thank John and Elizabeth Leonard, on the occasion of John's recent retirement, for all their contributions to the University. The Leonards have started a number of scholarships and fellowships and helped many students and faculty in the process.

John is a CSULB alum who graduated in 1969 and 1973 with his B.S. in Chemistry and M.S. in Biochemistry, respectively. After his time at The Beach, John went on to UC Riverside in 1978 to earn his Ph.D. in Biochemistry.

After serving in the 1990 Gulf War, John continued his work in the scientific community, most recently as the senior vice president for technical operations at Vaccinex Inc., a clinical-stage biotechnology company. While there, John served in leadership positions on project teams that managed the clinical development and commercialization of two biologic drugs. He also holds five therapeutic antibody patents and has authored 30 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

In 2012, he was honored as the Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and is a past CSULB 49er Foundation board member and current CNSM Fellows member.

John and Elizabeth have created the John E. & Elizabeth S. Leonard Endowed Graduate Fellowship for Distinction in the Natural Sciences and the John E. & Elizabeth S. Leonard Endowed Chair in Environmental Chemistry.


Below are a few statements demonstrating the impact that the Leonards' support has on research in the sciences at CSU Long Beach.

Joseph Groom

"The Leonards' contributions have allowed me to buy some very important pieces of equipment for my research: so far I have ordered new PCR machines, a plate reader, several pipettor sets to keep my students busy, and orbital shakers to make my (sometimes) temperamental bacteria grow. Since I joined in January 2023, I have been training undergraduate and graduate students in molecular biology and microbiology, and we have even been able to isolate some new bacterial mutants that should allow many of my students to be authors on publications." - Joseph Groom, Assistant Professor Biology

Fangyuan Tian

"The John and Elizabeth Leonard Foundation provided part of my start-up funds when I joined CSULB as a new faculty. The generous support helped me to start my own career. With his initial financial support, I would be able to secure other external grants later on. Over 60 CSULB students have worked in my lab in the past 8 years. It's all thanks to John! On a personal level, he always encourages me to pursue higher career goals and gives me advice. I’m truly grateful for a mentor like him." - Fangyuan Tian, Associate Professor Chemistry and Biochemistry

Thank You!

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support.

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