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March 2019

News from the Office of Undergraduate Studies

March 2019

Letter from the Dean

 Faculty and Staff,

The final weeks of the semester are upon us. I’m certain you and your students feel the energy and the anxiousness as we work towards final exams. Know that the learning centers (Academic Success Center, Academic Success Center, Math Lab, STEM Student Success Center, and Writing Center) are open and available to students. The heart of these centers is well-trained peer educators.  In addition to providing support right now, we are preparing for the next academic year.  I encourage you to compliment your students’ successful academic work by recommending them for paid positions in one of our centers.  See the call below.

Students may need more than academic support. As you likely now know, Cougar Care Network (CCN) is CSUSM’s innovative early support initiative that allows Faculty and Staff to refer students for additional information, resources, and support to ensure their personal and academic success. If you think a student needs support, he or she likely does. Vist the Cougar Care Network site or read below for more information.

Finally, I close with news of additional support for students. The Office of Undergraduate Studies (OUGS) welcomes Dr. Tasos Lazarides who serves as our Innovation & Engagement Specialist and Ms. Amanda Tomanek as the Academic English Specialist in the Writing Center. Thanks to an Irvine Foundation Grant, OUGS joins a 7-member CSU consortium that will launch artificial intelligence chatbots for first-year students on each of our campuses. Read below on the ways this tool will support incoming students and free resources for addressing more complex requests.

Best wishes in the final weeks of the semester!

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

Help Us Support Students' Academic Success 

Recommend Students for Paid Positions as Learning Center Tutors and Supplemental Instruction Leaders

A person helping another person climb

Celebrate the academic success of your students by recommending them for positions as peer educators! The Centers for Learning and Academic Success Services (Writing Centers, Math Lab, Academic Success Center, STEM Student Success Center) are looking to hire peer educators for Fall 2019. As in previous semesters, the center directors are looking to our faculty partners, whose knowledge of student skills is invaluable, to refer students for potential employment as tutors and Supplemental Instruction leaders.

If you have any students in mind that would make great peer educators, please fill out this very short form and let them know they have been recommended. We know how much students appreciate professors acknowledging their hard work. 

Cougar Care Network                               

Working with a student who needs help now?
Refer a student to the Cougar Care Network

What Is the Cougar Care Network (CCN)?

Student Affairs successfully launched the Cougar Care Network (CCN) in Fall 2015. CCN is CSUSM’s innovative early support initiative that allows Faculty and Staff to refer students for additional information, resources, and support to ensure their personal and academic success. The Cougar Care Network serves as a safety net to assist students who may be experiencing challenges in- or outside the classroom. More information about the Cougar Care Network can be found at the CCN website or by calling the Dean of Students Office at 760-750-4935.
ccn referral

Common Referrals

Common Referrals include both Academic and Behavioral Concerns such as the following: 

  • Poor performance on homework, quizzes, exams, assignments, etc.   
  • Frequent absences that could impede the student’s ability to pass the class
  • Personal issues impacting success such as food insecurity, financial challenges, suicidal remarks or attempts, homelessness, withdrawal or isolation, depression, anxiety, other mental health concerns, etc. Your awareness of these personal issues may evince themselves in conversations with your students or in their coursework.
  • Disruptive behavior such as aggression, heightened emotional distress, frequently falling asleep in class, inappropriate interactions with faculty or other students, etc. 

Faculty and staff will receive acknowledgement of receipt of their referral and additional follow-up will occur as needed or appropriate. 

OUGS Team Additions

OUGS Welcomes Dr. Tasos Lazarides

Tasos LazaridesIt is with enthusiasm that the Office of Undergraduate Studies (OUGS) welcomes Dr. Tasos Lazarides as our Innovation & Engagement Specialist, a position funded by our 2015 Governor’s Innovation Award.  In this role, he guides OUGS and its learning centers in identifying technological solutions and other innovative approaches to enhance and facilitate our students’ diverse academic and educational needs. As part of the OUGS team, he also leads our team’s communication and marketing efforts to promote students’ academic success.  Dr. Lazarides liaises and partners with other units on campus, including the colleges, Student Affairs, IITS, and Planning and Academic Resources on technology and communication related to the Graduation Initiative 2025.

He has served in several emergency hire roles in OUGS over the past year, most recently as the interim Innovation & Engagement Specialist.  Dr. Lazarides brings to his role a wealth of experience with twelve years of teaching writing, language, and literature courses in face-to-face and online environments at the University of Maryland, CSUSM, Ashford, and Eurognosi Academic Success Center in Cyprus.  Additionally, he has established an online presence as a mobile gaming and digital technologies writer with nearly 3000 published articles. He holds degrees in Engineering and English Language and Literature from institutions in Cyprus and a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the University of Maryland.

 If you have not yet met Tasos, stop by the Academic Success Center to say, “Hi.”  You are sure to find a colleague in him.

OUGS Welcomes Amanda Tomanek

Amanda TomanekWe are excited to announce Ms. Amanda Tomanek as the newest addition to the Office of Undergraduate Studies team. New this week, she joins the Writing Center Director, Mr. Evan Smith, and a team of writing center peer educators as the Academic English Language Specialist.

Within her previous role at Tokyo International University, she wore many hats as a Global Teaching Fellow, from technology coordinator to curriculum developer. She has her Masters of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from Teachers College, Columbia University, as well as her Bachelors of Arts in History from Witchita State.

She is looking forward to meeting students and helping them succeed in their classes! With expertise in working with multi-lingual writers, she will be enhancing the support the Writing Center provides for all writers, including multi-lingual writers. Faculty is welcome to reach out to her if they have any questions about her work with students facing challenges with Academic English.

Expect to hear more in the near future about Amanda’s new role and collaboration opportunities.


Irvine Foundation and Chatbot (Virtual Assistant) Project

Consortium: CSU, Northridge is the lead campus. CSU, San Marcos; California Polytechnic University, Pomona; CSU, Channel Islands; Humboldt State University, CSU East Bay; and Sonoma State University.

CSUSM Award: $137K man and woman texting

CSUSM and the six campuses listed above have formed a consortium with the goal of using chatbot, or virtual assistant, technology to provide comprehensive student support initially for incoming freshmen (with a plan for expanding in the future). With the support of an Irvine Foundation Grant, this project will be launching in Fall 2019. The goals of the project are to improve student outcomes, including­, but not limited to, retention, progress to degree, GPA, and social belonging.

The consortium is partnering with AdmitHub, an edtech company that has developed and successfully deployed a higher-ed focused virtual assistant. Students will communicate with this virtual assistant through text messaging at any time of the day. Research has shown that such virtual assistants allow students to locate important information (for instance, financial aid deadlines and support, advising hours, registration deadlines, and much more) faster and more effectively than navigating multiple webpages, and we hope our virtual assistant will do the same for our students. By answering lower order questions, the virtual assistant frees university resources for addressing more complex and individualized requests. 

This virtual assistant broadly operates in the following manner:

  1. Uses artificial intelligence to translate student requests (text messages) into data
  2. Analyzes the data to identify the information a student is requesting
  3. Locates that information in a constantly expanding knowledge base containing all pertinent CSUSM information
  4. Selects the appropriate pre-constructed response containing that information
  5. Delivers the information (including appropriate links) to the student through text messaging using a conversational tone

If the virtual assistant cannot respond to a student's request, it forwards the request by emailing an appropriate staff member to ensure the student receives the information requested

The virtual assistant also allows for proactive messaging to student populations. These "nudges" provide information on university resources, events, deadlines, and more. We will be sharing more information in the following weeks as the project launches.