Students who completed CIMAS in Spring 2023 visit CSUCI’s Santa Rosa Island Research Station.Aug. 16, 2023 — An innovative CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) program has received a national honor for enabling Latino students to quickly get back on track to graduate after experiencing academic challenges.  

Excelencia in Education named the CSUCI Initiative for Mapping Academic Success (CIMAS) a “Program to Watch” for 2023 on Aug. 15.  

“We are impressed with the impact your program has had thus far on Latino students and recognize the potential of your program to grow in practice and in evidence of effectiveness,” wrote Erin McCowey, institutional practices manager for Excelencia in Education. 

Originally started for Sociology students in 2017 and paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was relaunched university wide in 2022 to address learning-loss and decreased engagement and sense of belonging caused by the pandemic. 

Small groups of students who don’t pass one or more courses the previous semester attend weekly workshops on study skills and campus resources and check-in sessions led by faculty members with help from peer mentors. Those who complete the program are awarded scholarships to take a summer course, celebrated at an event, and invited to hike to the top of sat’wiwa, the sacred Chumash hill on campus, and visit the University’s Santa Rosa Island Research Station.  

The scholarship to get back on track to graduate is especially significant for CSUCI students of color who are historically underrepresented on campuses and those who are low-income and the first generation in their families to attend college. Of the more than 500 students who have participated, 80% are Latino. Sixty-three percent of CSUCI’s total enrollment is Latino. 

The percentage of the Spring 2022 semester CIMAS participants who returned to CSUCI for Fall 2022 semester was nearly 13 points higher than that of all other students. Participants report that the program not only imparts skills but also increases their motivation, confidence and sense of belonging. 

“The program’s success is built on the combination of explicitly teaching learning skills and bringing together small communities of students who support each other as they try new strategies and discuss the challenges they are facing,” said Sociology Lecturer Leslie Abell, the program’s Faculty Lead. 

Associate Professor of Sociology Elizabeth Sowers and Director of Academic Advising Monica Rivas launched the original program for the Sociology department, where the percentage of students who are Latino or will be the first generation in their family to graduate from college is significantly higher than that of CSUCI’s overall enrollment. Excelencia in Education named it a “Program to Watch” in 2020. 

“Initially, most students were really unhappy that they had to attend,” said Sociology Professor and former Chair Dennis Downey. “But after the workshops, students often sent moving thank-you messages about how helpful they were.”  

One student wrote, “The day I went to that workshop is the day I decided to stay in college.” 

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