As the 2019-20 academic year wound down, CSUN students voted to honor Alex Ojeda, professor of criminology and justice studies, and Cindy Cruz, graduation and retention advising specialist in the dean’s office in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, as their 2020 Student Success Champions. The student-selected faculty and staff members were honored during the final session in the 2020 Provost Student Success Series.
The April 16 program, “Celebrating Student Success: Stronger Together,” was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 235 people attended the Zoom session, including CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison, who gave a few words of welcome, acknowledging the wide variety of people from all over campus — students, faculty and staff — who came together this academic year to make student success possible.
Melanie Bocanegra, CSUN’s new associate vice president of the Office of Student Success, spoke about Ojeda’s and Cruz’s dedication to student success, reading directly from statements by students who nominated them.
According to Bocanegra, Ojeda stood out as a Student Success Champion due to his mentorship and support of his students, in and out of the classroom. One student wrote that they felt inspired by his class to help their community and family, to fight misogyny and to strive to understand the importance of mental health.
Cruz was noted for giving students great advice, Bocanegra said. One student who nominated Cruz wrote about how they turned to her when they were put on academic probation, as their grades suffered after they had lost a grandparent. With Cruz’s help, the student raised their grades and was taken off academic probation a year later — and found a paid internship by following Cruz’s advice.
Bocanegra also spoke about her own background as a first-generation student and about a recent poll on what student success looks like at CSUN. According to the poll, conducted by her office, students succeed in environments that are student-centered and allow them to explore holistic practices — such as taking part in community engagement.
Provost Mary Beth Walker also spoke during the program, noting the resilience of students, faculty and staff who successfully made the switch to digital learning this semester on such short notice.
Walker shared the findings of a study done during the fall 2019 semester, which showed that the rates of freshmen taking at least 15 units a semester had gone up by 20% across all student demographics at CSUN. Individual involvement in “compassion- and service-based actions,” such as volunteering and community engagement, went up as well, she said, while the opportunity gap between students went down. There was also a reduction in DFU rates — the percentage of students in a particular course who received a grade below C- — and equity gaps in first-year math classes, according to Walker.
Launched in fall 2019, the Provost Student Success Series is a program of ongoing lectures centered around the efforts that CSUN students, faculty and staff can take to ensure student success. One of the purposes of the series was to create partnerships across campus, as members of the CSUN community worked to help students achieve their academic and professional goals.
A recording of the webinar is available on the Provost Student Success Series web page.