Photo of Student researchers Kyle Almlie and Joe Wise get real-life lessons in biodiesel production with chemistry professor Lisa Ott (center).

Redefining Student Success

“Our students as our alumni will make significant contributions to enabling a stronger economy, a healthier population, a cleaner environment, a more just and caring society. We hope that is the case, not just because they've passed their courses here, but because they have left us more autonomous, more tolerant, more curious, more imbued with habits of the heart.” —President Paul J. Zingg

Every summer since 2004, student researchers at CSU, Chico have had the unique opportunity to work on real-life chemistry problems with faculty members and industry scientists. Chemistry and biochemistry majors participating in the Chemistry Summer Research Institute (CSRI) have contributed to research with implications for cancer and HIV treatment and created biodegradable plastics, among many other projects.

Chemistry major Kyle Almlie was awarded CSRI fellowships in 2010 and 2011. His most recent work, with Professor Lisa Ott, involved developing a sustainable method of biodiesel production from local agricultural waste products.

“CSRI is a vital program for chemistry majors,” says Almlie. “The experience gained in 10 weeks of full-time lab work simply cannot be duplicated in class. Being able to confidently work in a lab environment with group members and advisors is a skill required not only by graduate schools but also by most technical lab careers. This all translates into a huge advantage for the student as he or she studies at CSU, Chico, and further on in their careers.”

Randy Miller, assistant dean of Natural Sciences and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, agrees: “Although there are many great things about CSRI, the best part of the institute is the opportunities it affords the students. Most of these students go on to make presentations at national meetings for the American Chemical Society and other professional organizations. It connects them to the real world of chemistry, and it enhances their credentials for getting into top graduate programs or jobs in the field.”

The support chemistry students get from faculty members through the CSRI echoes the support professors, staff, and administrators provide students all over campus. "Student learning and success," says Paul Zingg, is the "heart of the matter" and has been since the school's founding 125 years ago.

But how do we define success? Markers such as grade point average, persistence rates, and job placement are important, but they don't tell the whole story, says Drew Calandrella, vice president for Student Affairs. What is even more important is that our students grow as a result of attending CSU, Chico—that they learn to make goals and accomplish them, to build relationships, to use resources wisely, to become productive citizens.

Notes CC Carter, director of Student Activities: “We expect that their experience here will forever change their lives, providing hope and opportunity—that is success.”

This idea, of creating a university community that supports student success, informs all programs and policies at CSU, Chico, from the individualized assistance of the Educational Opportunity Program to the hundreds of valuable scholarships and unique research opportunities.

Now the University is on the cusp of an initiative to measure the ways it fosters many forms of success. Zingg has commissioned a study of how today's Chico Experience helps students develop into engaged citizens and sets them on a path of success. The study will ask, “What mark does the Chico Experience have on our students? To what extent are the markers of our institutional DNA—service, civic engagement, altruism, sustainability—a part of their individual value structure and behavior upon leaving us?” says President Zingg.

By 2013, the University will have the answers—and will use them to strengthen the ways we prepare an informed and talented citizenry. The University will have clear ways to demonstrate the value of its work and contribution to serving the public good. And most of all, it will continue the 125-year tradition of focusing on students and their success on campus and beyond.

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