Boot Camp Readies New College Students for Success in Calculus

Date: 07-19-2007

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
Lori Holcombe
Department of Mathematics

A different kind of boot camp is in session now in Holt Hall at California State University, Chico. Twenty first-time freshmen in math, science and engineering programs are going through some rigorous training to prepare them for battle with college-level precalculus, calculus, chemistry and physics. The students come from throughout California.

The program is part of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). In its 12th year at CSU, Chico, the camp, which runs for four weeks from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., focuses on problem solving, explorations and applications of precalculus mathematics. Its purpose is to increase the number of bachelor’s degrees in science, mathematics, engineering and technology awarded to minority students.

Lori Holcombe, who has coordinated and taught in the program for 12 years, said, “The reason many students fail calculus is not the calculus, but the math, so we go all out on a complete and intense algebra review for four weeks. The camp gives students a step in the door, a jump start so that they are prepared to enter a math or science course and be successful.”

The students are in their second week of class and report that they have already gained significantly in their understanding of concepts and their ability to not just produce an answer, but to know what is behind it.

“If I get stuck, I can work my way to an answer,” said Nicole Benavente from Concord.

“We don’t memorize, we understand,” said Greg Eusebio from San Jacinto.

“Some things I learned in high school, but wasn’t really sure of,” said Perla Garcia from Chico, “Here I can ask for help and receive it, and, if I don’t know the answer to something, someone else will.”

In addition to the academic preparation, boot camp students appreciate the friends they are making that will help smooth the transition to college. Moving from home to college can be a challenging adventure for any new student, and for those students from an urban setting in Southern California, for example, the transition can be especially difficult.

“This program is connected philosophically to First-Year Experience and other programs at CSU, Chico that are designed to ensure that students don’t just come here,” said Holcombe, “but that they stay and thrive.”

LSAMP participants receive a $600 stipend, a graphing calculator and other supplies after completing the camp. Enrollment in core science and math courses is required in the fall and spring semesters. The National Science Foundation, the California State University system and CSU, Chico fund the program.