Your  Account:

December 2019

December 2019


From the Dean...

Congratulations on the end of another successful semester! 

Thanks to a grant this fall from Department of Education, CSUSM URM and female STEM major students will be given a rich toolkit through FIRST2STEM to help realize their STEM ambitions.  With this grant, we intend to develop students’ academic STEM success while simultaneously developing their STEM identity, which has been shown to increase retention and graduation rates.

Just as we launch new student success initiatives like FIRST2STEM, we celebrate the significant accomplishments of our veteran First Year & University Programs Director, Dr. Joanne Pedersen, who will be retiring this month after nearly three decades of innovative programs designed to promote first- year student success. Oh my, what she has accomplished! Thank you, Joanne!

Thank you for all you do to support students on their journeys to graduation.  Enjoy your winter break and we will see you in the spring!

Best wishes,


Dawn M. Formo, Ph.D.  
Dean, Undergraduate Studies
Division of Academic Affairs

First-Year Programs Director, Dr. Joanne Pedersen, Announces Retirement

By Calla Conway, OUGS Student Assistant for Digital Communications

In what she calls a “bittersweet” departure, Dr. Joanne Pedersen is leaving CSUSM after 28 ½ years of service to CSUSM. Recognized for her advocacy for first-year students, Dr. Pedersen helped foster a culture of academic success that centered on the needs and well-being of her students, both as a professor and as a first-year advocate. Dr. Pedersen has long cultivated a life full of accomplishments and determination. Growing up in San Fernando Valley, she was a professional ice skater from the time she was fifteen before deciding that she wanted to pursue her education. What began as Dr. Pedersen’s interest in “the mechanisms of the mind,” in her childhood pets, eventually led to her studying for her doctorate to become a biological psychologist at UC Berkeley. Referred to as her “Jane Goodall days,” Dr. Pedersen began studying animals from kangaroo rats, hyenas, and desert iguanas. It was at UC Berkeley that she met and fell in love with her husband Gery, as well as her love for teaching. By the time Dr. Pedersen joined CSUSM, she was an award-winning teacher, and CSUSM was only a few years old.

 It is thanks to Dr. Pedersen’s leadership that CSUSM developed and institutionalized 13 different courses including the GEL 101 course, along with several specialized versions of it. In fact, the GEL 101 was such a success that it resulted in a $2.5 million Governor’s Finance Office award which afforded CSUSM’s Academic Success Center. Under Dr. Pedersen’s leadership the first-year seminar has been a significant success in increasing first-year retention rates and ultimately graduation rates for underserved and first-generation students. Sixty-six percent of the 2007 group of URM students returned for their next year, in comparison to the 71% of non-URM students; with the 2013 group that returned in 2014, URM students exceeded their non-URM peers in first-year retention, 83% to 81%. First-generation students also improved for this cohort from 64% in 2007 to 84%. In her Outstanding First-year Student Advocate 2017 nomination letter, Dr. Dawn Formo wrote, “While one-year retention rates have improved across the board in the last several years, CSUSM has essentially erased the one-year retention achievement gap for both URM students and first-generation college students.... This significant accomplishment is thanks to Dr. Pedersen’s thoughtful leadership and persistence.”

When asked about her greatest professional accomplishment, Dr. Pedersen replied, “My greatest joy is the people.” With retirement, Joanne plans to work on a greater work-life balance, focusing on family, volunteering, but not a doubt in her mind, still working with CSUSM from a distance. “This place has been my second home. The people here have been like a family, through the good the bad and the ugly. There are too many good people around here to not keep going.”

FIRST2STEM Grant Award

By Calla Conway, OUGS Student Assistant for Digital Communications

CSUSM is telling a STEM student from the beginning, “Yes, you are a STEM major, and we’re going to do everything we can to help you get there.’” Dr. Stephen Tsui  

Chair of the Physics Department, Dr. Stephen Tsui, and Office of Undergraduate Studies Student Success Analyst, Dr. Adam Petersen, collaborated to bring the Facilitating Identity, Retention, and Successful Transition to STEM (FIRST2STEM) program to CSUSM thanks to a $748,966 Department of Education grant. With the goal of closing the equity gap within the STEM majors, the program will promote academic success and identity building by focusing on the first two years of the undergraduate experience for students who require additional support as they prepare to take calculus. These students may include those who are first-generation college students or are financially disadvantaged. In addition to co-curricular mathematics support, FIRST2STEM will offer opportunities for these students to explore scientific problem-solving, research literacy, and entrepreneurship within their first year.

 In partnership with FIRST2STEM students, the program will:

  1. Increase students’ enrollment and pass rates in calculus;
  2. Increase students’ academic and social integration;
  3. Increase students’ retention and graduation within STEM without a change in major outside the College of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (CSTEM);
  4. Increase students’ overall retention and graduation rates.

FIRST2STEM supports underrepresented minority and female students who statistically trail behind in graduation rates at CSUSM in contrast to their STEM peers. Students will accomplish the four objectives above over a three-year period. A key factor for success in the program lies within their sense of identity, not only with peers, but with people already within STEM careers. This can have a significant influence on student’s persistence through their developmental courses, as many of these students may not be able to take their first major STEM course until their fourth semester.

We look forward to these students’ success through FIRST2STEM.

Grand Opening of the Extended Learning Building and Bridge to Academic Success

By Calla Conway, OUGS Student Assistant for Digital Communications

The Centers for Learning and Academic Success Services are happily settled into their new location, the 2nd floor of the ELB. Trained peer educators had a busy semester supporting students and will return in the spring to continue offering support.  Even more, the bridge connecting the ELB to the main campus is open, making it even easier for students to stop for academic support.  Thank you for continuing to encourage your students to make the most of the academic support available to them!