Cabrillo College


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About the Cabrillo College STEEP Course




Project Goals Overview

The Science, Technology and Energy: Expanding Potential (STEEP) program is a multi-component program designed to enhance and support the participation of our students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. While all components of STEEP are aimed to prepare STEM students for academic success and attract new students to these fields, our curriculum strives to offer a learning experience that is not only content-based but also creates a transformational experience.

STEEP Abstract

This project is attracting and retaining students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields via involvement with sustainable technologies in two ways. The project includes a summer Precalculus Preparedness Seminar, a summer Energy Laboratory Academy as a preparation for a later internship, a Sustainability Team, placement in undergraduate research and/or industry internships summer, and counseling, mentoring and tutoring support through an existing Math, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) center. A capstone activity of the Energy Laboratory academy is a community service project involving photovoltaics. Other efforts aimed at increasing retention within STEM majors include provision of instruction to strengthen skill sets important in gateway courses in math and laboratory science.

The project’s intellectual merit stems from the interplay of the many interventions being employed: project based learning, service learning, learning through teaching, intensive cohort experiences, individualized learning, and longitudinal support through established learning communities. It addresses the need for improved performance in two gateway classes: Precalculus—the course necessary for almost all lower division college technical coursework, and Circuits, a prerequisite for almost all upper division college technical coursework in many engineering disciplines. It builds on past successes of the MESA center.

The project’s broader impacts are twofold: results from the comprehensive evaluation of the project are being widely disseminated to encourage others to try similar efforts; and the students graduating from the project are helping to meet the workforce needs in the greater Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay area.


Science, Technology & Energy: Expanding Potential (STEEP)


Global warming is now viewed by many as a clear and present threat to human life on earth. Movies like An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour have had a tremendous impact on America’s understanding of this climatic imperative. Reactions to this situation have ranged from denial and indifference through anger and fear and onward toward a search for solutions. Given the world’s current population and varying standards of living, returning to sustainable practices of the past appears impossible. A sustainable future requires understanding the science of the problem and then through research and development, creating technological solutions as well as political, social and cultural changes.

Many Cabrillo students are interested and even passionate about finding solutions to this problem and want to work toward making the changes necessary to ensure a future for themselves and their children. Through past experience, we have identified three factors that support and retain students beginning their studies in STEM fields:

  • Confidence and success in mathematics
  • Having practical, hands-on experience demonstrating and/or applying scientific principles.
  • Gratification in knowing that their work can go beyond themselves and truly help others.

The following programs we envision for this proposal are directed at creating opportunities for students wherein they experience the above supporting factors in the context of creating a sustainable future.

  1. Precalculus Preparedness Seminar
  2. Energy Laboratory Academy
  3. Cabrillo Sustainability Team
  4. Placement in undergraduate research internships
  5. Industry internships
  6. Summer counseling, mentoring, and tutoring support in the MESA Center


Cabrillo College is a comprehensive community college located on the California central coast. The Cabrillo Community College District was established in 1958 and serves all of Santa Cruz County, the northern portion of Monterey County and the western portion of San Benito County. The college is situated just west of the Silicon Valley and south of the San Francisco Bay area. Thus, Cabrillo College is in close proximity to vibrant centers of industry and technical innovation. The cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville are the largest in the county with residential populations of approximately 57,000 and 50,000, with a Latino proportion of the residents currently at 17% and 75%, respectively. Watsonville is the municipal center of the agricultural Pajaro valley which is home to a large population of rural and migrant agricultural laborers and their families.

Cabrillo’s enrollment is roughly 15,000 students. We serve an ethnically diverse student body which is 26% Hispanic. As a result, Cabrillo has recently gained eligibility as a Hispanic-Serving Institution through the U.S. Department of Education’s Title V program. Other student demographics are as follows:

  • 25% full-time
  • 28% underrepresented (Hispanic, African-American or Native American)
  • 55% female
  • 50% goal of transferring to a baccalaureate-granting institution

Since its inception, Cabrillo College has ensured its strong transfer program through both an extensive transfer curriculum and excellent instruction. In addition to a full array of general education options, students are able to complete all of the lower-division major courses required by universities, prior to transfer. Particular care has been taken by Cabrillo’s Natural and Applied Science Division to offer all of the preparatory courses necessary for students to transfer into the STEM fields. As a result, Cabrillo students are able to achieve full junior standing upon transfer, regardless of their major. In addition, for over fifteen years, Cabrillo has maintained a strong Transfer Center, which assists students with their transition from community college to baccalaureate-granting universities.

Between years 2000 and 2005, Cabrillo transferred an average of 700 students each academic year to four-year colleges and universities. This includes an average of 274 to the University of California and 386 to the California State University systems. Cabrillo consistently ranks in the top ten (out of 109 California community colleges) in the number of students transferring to the University of California each year, competing with colleges that have student populations twice its size. In addition, between 20 and 24% of our transfer students come from groups that are underrepresented in higher education.

Cabrillo also transfers a large number of students into STEM majors. This is a direct result of two things: the leadership in our Natural and Applied Sciences Division (including math, engineering, physical sciences, life sciences and computer science) which has directed the development of both laboratories and excellent instruction necessary to prepare our students for upper-division coursework in these fields; and Cabrillo’s sustained effort to establish and maintain high-quality programs that support the transfer process, especially for the underrepresented segment of the transfer population. The percentage of underrepresented students who transfer from Cabrillo has grown from 10.8% in 1992 to over 20%. This percentage has held constant between 2001 and 2006. This record of excellence shows that Cabrillo has great potential and has developed an effective infrastructure to increase the number of students transferring into STEM majors. This proposal includes plans that would take advantage of, and build on, the existing resources, facilities, equipment, faculty, curriculum and instructional materials that are already in place at our college. Cabrillo is growing and we have room for more students. We are in a great position to increase our number of future math, science and engineering professionals, and particularly to increase the number of historically underrepresented students pursuing these fields. We also have many students who want to be engaged as productive members of the economy and our society, and who are interested in sustainable technologies. Given the resources, we can increase further the number of students pursuing majors that will lead to STEM careers.

2002-03 2002-03 2002-03 2005-06 2006-07
STEM Total Enrollment 2154 1831 1870 1974 2073
Underrep. STEM Enrollment 498 401 386 410 384
STEM AA Graduates 113 96 96 115 not avail.

Fig. 1 Current STEM Enrollment & Graduation Statistics


Self-Identification as a STEM Major In order for students to succeed in joining the scientific workforce, we need to remove the stumbling blocks that impede the progress of community college students who may be interested in pursuing STEM majors. The first goal is to encourage more students to pursue STEM majors at the onset of their academic careers. Based on fifteen years of experience working with and observing underrepresented students in Cabrillo’s MESA Center, we have identified three critical factors that inhibit students’ decisions to pursue STEM majors:

  • Limited Mathematics Skills—undeveloped K-12 mathematics skills, fear of the subject, lack of success in past classes, limited understanding of the demands of college work, or a lack of study skills
    • STEEP response: Summer Precalculus Preparedness Seminar
  • Limited Laboratory Experience—little or no high quality laboratory experience in K-12, lack of experience building things during childhood and adolescence, lack of understanding about how mechanical things work and a lack of experience measuring and hypothesizing
    • STEEP response: Summer Energy Laboratory Academy
  • Years of Education Necessary to Achieve STEM majors—more motivation needed for students to envision their persistence over the many years of college study required to complete a STEM degree
    • STEEP response: Promote full-time college work by 1) ensuring financial aid, counseling and tutoring to students so they are able to attend school full time, they are assured of correct course selections for their major, and they are provided with the academic support necessary for success in their STEM courses, and 2) hiring promising students as tutors and recruiters which will enable them to reduce their hours of employment elsewhere and increase their academic workload

It is very common for students to switch out of a STEM pathway. One study using the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 data set showed that about three in four eighth graders with STEM career aspirations had switched to a non-STEM goal six years later.[2] STEM persisters tended to have stronger self-confidence in their ability to learn science and math and were more likely to be male.[3] In addition, progression in science shows differences by gender and ethnicity at least as early as middle school with males and Asians and Whites showing higher levels of science achievement than other groups.[4] Other research suggests that some of these differences may continue after high school with women and many ethnic minorities being more likely to switch out of a STEM degree pathway in college. [5]

Success in Mathematics

At Cabrillo, as elsewhere, the need for coursework in mathematics through calculus and beyond is a major hurdle that prevents students from pursuing STEM majors. Precalculus, in particular, is a course that acts as a “gatekeeper” to students who might otherwise be interested in a math-based career. At Cabrillo, between Fall 2000 and Fall 2006, 54.7% of the students who enrolled in Precalculus either failed or withdrew. Of students who don’t pass the course the first time, 74.8% never pass Precalculus at Cabrillo (they either fail or withdraw). These statistics came from a sample size of over 2000 students. This motivates our intervention that supports students who have not been successful in Precalculus. In our summer Precalculus Preparedness Seminar, we would provide students with a successful math experience that will give them the skills and confidence necessary to successfully pass Precalculus the following semester.

Lack of Experience with STEM

Frequently, biographies of scientists and mathematicians recount their early playful experiences with puzzles, dismantling machinery or electronics, designing and building gadgets. Lack of such enjoyable “tinkering” coupled with lack of quality laboratory experiences during K-12 education can prevent students from realizing that pursuing a STEM career may be right for them. Very few students coming from the high schools have had early building and problem-solving experiences or quality high school lab time. Lack of role models from the professional ranks in the STEM disciplines results in students overlooking the possibility of such a career goal. Another thing that students rarely get to experience is how satisfying it can be to use science and technology to benefit others. If more students were exposed to this, we feel many of them would consider an academic goal in the sciences. Student enthusiasm for STEM work has often been generated through MESA activities where they have the opportunity to work on something that directly benefits others. The Energy Lab Academy would give students successful lab and field experiences and provide them with the skills and confidence necessary to succeed in future lab assignments as well as to learn the skills necessary to work in the important and rapidly-growing renewable energy industry. Student teaching assistants and guest speakers in the Energy Lab Academy will provide a source of role models.

Taking on the Challenge of Time to a STEM Degree

When underprepared students realize that most STEM majors require 5-6 years of college for them, they may lose their motivation to pursue a STEM major. We need to help these students understand the long-term advantages of STEM majors socially, economically and personally, and assist them with the necessary financial aid, counseling, tutoring and employment that will enable them to complete their coursework in a reasonable amount of time.


Research supports our own observations that we can accomplish the project’s goals by:

  • Recruiting high school seniors who might be encouraged to pursue STEM majors at Cabrillo College
  • Utilizing a curriculum that is geared toward multi-level learning through practical examples in a laboratory setting
  • Generating student interest by offering a curriculum with a community service component tied to the renewable energy industry
  • Placing Cabrillo students in STEM majors into the field earlier through university and industry internships that will assist them in pursuing their STEM careers.
Strong College Support for Goal

Cabrillo has a long history of supporting transfer students in STEM majors, especially for students from underrepresented groups. In 1991, Cabrillo was the first community college to establish a MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) program. In order to be eligible for MESA, students must be pursuing a STEM major with an intent to transfer. In addition, students must either be low-income, come from a group underrepresented in higher education, or be the first in their family to attend college. In the sixteen years since its inception, the Cabrillo MESA program has been acknowledged as a showcase program in our state. Cabrillo has demonstrated its unequivocal support of the MESA mission to increase STEM transfers among educationally disadvantaged students by providing budget support that covers the director’s salary and benefits, the counselor’s salary and benefits, student tutors, equipment and technical support to maintain the MESA computer lab. The college has provided a dedicated facility for staff offices, student study space, and college vehicles for field trips.

MESA Success in STEM Transfer of Educationally Disadvantaged Students

Following are some of the positive trends we have seen among Cabrillo’s MESA students who have declared STEM majors. Records on the progress of MESA students have been maintained since the program’s inception. In spring of 1997, after following a cohort of students for six years we found that there was a strong correlation between participation in the MESA program and higher GPA’s. This correlation occurred even though the course material that students were required to take was becoming increasingly more difficult.

Results from various studies suggested:

  1. Correlation of MESA membership with improved GPA
  2. Increased rate of transfer for MESA students over general college rate
  3. Importance of early intervention to identify STEM interest
Average GPA at joining MESA Average transfer GPA
2.529 2.877

Fig. 2 Average Increase of GPA from Pre-MESA Involvement to Eventual Transfer in STEM Majors

% of students with increased GPA % with no change % with decreased GPA
75% 2% 23%

Fig. 3 Individual Increase of GPA from Pre-MESA Involvement and Eventual STEM Transfer

A comparison was made as part of the same study between the transfer rates of the MESA students (in STEM fields) compared with the college transfer rate (all majors). A distinction was made between the active and inactive MESA student. Inactive was defined as a student who enrolled in the program, but spent little time in the center, and had not participated in trips, speakers or other sponsored activities.

Cabrillo Overall Transfer Rate Overall MESA Transfer Rate Transfer Rate, Active MESA students Transfer Rate, Inactive MESA Students
14% 36% 60% 11%

Fig. 4 Comparison of Overall College Transfer Rates with MESA Transfer Rates

Value of Early Outreach

How students are attracted to, and successfully matriculated into STEM programs is a very complex issue. The common understanding is that students must develop an aspiration for and an expectation of success in the field. Aspiration in an area requires an awareness and valuing of the field, as well as an interest in serving in the roles found in that field. Expectations are influenced by individuals’ confidence.[6] It is crucial to provide mentors, role models and sound information networks so that underrepresented minorities and women, whose expectations typically fall well below their aspirations, have opportunities to raise both. Many people who have focused on this issue will confirm that it is never too early.[7]

This principle has been reinforced by our local experience. In a study by Cabrillo’s Office of Institutional Research in 1998, it was demonstrated that of the 110 MESA students who had transferred by that date, 67% of them had begun their math coursework at the remedial level. The following table illustrates these results:

Arithmetic Beginning Algebra Intermediate Algebra Precalculus (College level math)
13% 17% 37% 33%

Fig. 5 Entry Community College Math Class for MESA Students who Successfully Transferred to a Baccalaureate-Granting Institution
in a STEM Major

The above data shows the large proportion in this group of students (who were STEM students that completed transfer in that major) who began their college math experience at a level below Precalculus. Precalculus is the first math class in the sequence followed by STEM majors that is considered college-level, and it is a prerequisite for most of the technical coursework. The data shows how many students begin math at the basic skills level but persevere and with the support of MESA services do achieve their goal of a STEM transfer. This trend still continues: a focus group of MESA students we convened in February 2007 verified that they began college math at Intermediate Algebra or below. The data also shows the enormous need for academic support for these students and that outreach efforts at the basic skills levels can be fruitful in reaching students who have not yet decided on a career direction.

In summary, to get more students graduating and/or transferring in the STEM majors, we must devise ways to interest and recruit them at an earlier stage to consider these majors. Once in the major, students can then be retained in those academic pathways by being folded into the full array of existing support services offered through our MESA program.

Community Service linked to Academic Study

Service learning is the term given currently to various pedagogies that link some form of community service with academic study so that both parts synergistically strengthen one another. [8] Research bears out what has been experienced through practice at Cabrillo, which indicates that most students will work harder and feel more satisfaction when they’re part of a field project that directly helps others. Furthermore, for women and minority students, an important component of major choice is believing that you can serve the critical needs of our society. In a study of female engineers, it was established that many of them saw science as a vehicle for altruism and were attracted to the field because science is used to help other people. [9] In general, women in the field use “creative science to solve societal problems.” [10]

Research has established that service learning has a positive impact on students’ academic learning. It also has been shown to contribute to students’

  • moral development;
  • ability to apply what they have learned in the “real world;”
  • problem analysis, critical thinking, cognitive development, and understanding of complex problems. [11]

Choosing a career that is perceived as helping people or society is an important criterion for many women. We can capitalize on this opportunity to assist students to learn engineering and science more effectively by offering them a chance to make concrete contributions to the optimization of appropriate technologies for sustainable development.

Integral Role of Laboratory Investigations and Project Based Learning

Laboratory investigations play an integral role in quality science instruction at all levels [11] because students learn the principles by first hand experience. Problem solving activities and project-based learning require that participants acquire organized sets of facts and develop specific skills.[12] Teams and work groups allow for social construction of knowledge and understanding through activity, discussion, and interactions necessary to solve problems and meet project goals.[13] All STEEP programs emphasize students working with others to gain practical knowledge and experience.

The Learning Community

Higher program completion rates result from learning communities where student support services are integrated with instruction and engagement with peers. [14] Students who are encouraged to develop expertise in mathematics for example, will do math more often with other students, address mathematical dilemmas, create knowledge new to them and thereby begin to identify themselves as mathematicians. [15] Students who have worked through a number of levels of math are often good tutors, still having a memory of their own confusion and how to resolve it. The STEEP programs are designed to cultivate accomplished students who will in turn support others, broadening the effectiveness of the programs.

Intensive Cohort Experiences

Forming cohorts of students with similar goals is a proven method for success and retention of students in all kinds of programs. Work groups are common in industry as well, so using this model will prepare students for internships and beyond. Cohort experiences are known to:

  • Increase levels of engagement in the college experience by ensuring interaction with faculty and peers in active and collaborative learning;
  • Increase the time and energy students devote to educationally purposeful activities;
  • Include access to supportive services designed to provide clear pathways to success important to minority and first generation college students.[16]

The STEEP programs will develop various overlapping cohorts engaged in understanding and solving practical problems.

Local Critical Workforce Needs

Building the New Energy Workforce was a regional conference in February, 2007, sponsored by Silicon Valley Workforce Development Coalition. Employers in the energy sector met with educators to discuss the knowledge and experience necessary for workers entering the field. The need for sustainable power generation and energy conservation will result in high growth and high demand for workers in the energy sector. These jobs will be for engineers and technicians knowledgeable in renewable energy technologies, energy conservation and efficiency, computer networks, math, communication and analysis. [18] STEEP’s programs are tailored to connect students with futures in the energy industry developing locally.


The program components listed here address the many factors that have been identified as challenges. They are designed to make the best use of current research findings and the observations over several years of our local student population. They also leverage many local resources to accomplish the goal.

Summer Precalculus Preparedness Seminar

For this four-week seminar we will recruit students who previously enrolled in a Precalculus course at Cabrillo but were not successful. This would include students who dropped the class, withdrew toward the end of the semester, or received non-passing grades. In this seminar, students will progress from memorizers to reasoners. The academic focus will be on trigonometry, which is a stumbling block for many students in Precalculus. We will develop study skills and use a collaborative learning model to teach students to better communicate and to use one another as resources to test their reasoning. Several students, who are more advanced in the STEM curriculum, will serve as teaching assistants. They will act as tutors for the seminar students while simultaneously reinforcing their own mastery of the material. Tutors will also serve as role models and peer mentors for participating students.

Summer Energy Laboratory Academy

Recruitment for this month-long laboratory course will be from Cabrillo students and high school seniors interested in hands-on learning who want to gain the skills needed for work in the booming solar, wind and other renewable and efficient energy fields. Students will learn about circuits and the physics and math behind electricity and energy on a “just-in-time” basis, following the lead of Gerald Herder, of Cal Poly, Pomona Engineering Department, whose students learn a lot of physics, electrical theory, practical math and engineering in a solar boat competition.[21] The capstone activity of the Academy will be a community service project involving a solar installation with a local non-profit agency, in collaboration with an existing solar industry partner. (See letters of support.) Recruitment will be focused on students who have not yet decided on a career direction or on those who have chosen a STEM focus but are just beginning that coursework. High school students will comprise up to 20% of the total participants. We hope to attract students by offering interesting and useful curriculum that will have the added benefit of preparing them to be successful in future laboratory classes, such as Circuits.

Summer Tutoring, Counseling and Mentoring Support in the MESA Center

Currently MESA offers a wide range of tutoring services for all of the STEM courses. The STEEP program would allow us to offer tutoring throughout the summer months, meeting the needs of STEEP students as well as the needs of all students taking science and math courses during the summer. We would continue to employ student tutors who are advanced in their science and math skills. In this way we can provide employment for our advanced students while simultaneously providing academic support for our beginning students. Students participating in either the Energy Laboratory Academy or the Precalculus Preparedness Seminar will have the opportunity to become part of a robust year-round learning community of budding science scholars. They will be exposed to what we playfully call the “geek mystique” that is the secret ingredient of the MESA Center and possibly retention in STEM majors.[22] Counseling services will be offered to students participating in the STEEP project during the summer months. In this way, students will be able to chart their educational plan in the STEM disciplines and find answers to questions about financial aid and internship programs.

Internships at Research Universities The Energy Laboratory Academy would serve to prepare selected participants for internship opportunities at local transfer universities through their electrical engineering departments. The curriculum of the Academy will be designed and refined over the course of the grant with input from faculty from these departments. The transfer university partners will be UC Santa Cruz, San Jose State University, UC Davis, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara University. These are the universities that admit the majority of Cabrillo’s STEM transfer students. Summer internship opportunities will be available during the 2nd through 5th years of the project.

Internships with Energy Efficiency Industries

The Energy Laboratory Academy will serve as an internship-readiness program for those students who decide on STEM majors. Because there is an unfilled need for energy engineers in our region, and because that need is expected to grow rapidly as energy conservation and sustainable energy sources become more prevalent, there are industry partners who will be looking to fill internships in subsequent summers from among the students who complete the Energy Laboratory Academy.[20] In developing the Academy’s curriculum, we would gather input from all participating industries and we would design and refine its content over the course of the grant so that one of the outcomes would be to prepare students for these internships in the 2nd through 5th years.

Sustainability Internship:

Cabrillo recently became a signatory of Presidents Climate Commitment, a pact made among the American Association of College and University Presidents. It focuses on integrating sustainability into the curriculum and eliminating global warming emissions. [23] The commitment mandates these responsibilities to the college:

  • Develop a plan to achieve climate neutrality;
  • Initiate tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gases during the development of the plan;
  • Make the action plan, inventory, and periodic progress reports publicly available.

A STEEP internship as a Team Leader/Junior Engineer will be offered to students completing the Energy Academy. Its scope will be to engage with other students, faculty and staff to inventory the current baseline carbon outputs, develop strategies for reduction and monitor success of implemented measures. The connection that this internship will make with the student Sustainability Club will be another recruiting tool for STEEP.

Fig. 6 Projected Flow of Students through STEEP Component Activities

Fig. 6 Projected Flow of Students through STEEP Component Activities


(a) The number of students completing associate degrees or completing credits toward transfer to a baccalaureate degree program in STEM fields will increase by 50% over the course of the grant. We will also double the number of Transfer Admission Guarantees in STEM majors.

See Fig. 1.

(b) Students who participate in the Precalculus Readiness Seminar will experience an average success rate in Precalculus that is 20% higher than comparable math students who do not participate. In this way a success rate of 60% would increase to one of 80%.

(c) Students who participate in the Energy Laboratory Academy will have an average success rate in physics laboratory courses that is 20% higher than comparable non-participating students.

(d) Of the non-declared STEM majors in each of the two summer courses, 35% will subsequently declare themselves STEM majors.

(e) Over the course of the grant, the number of students from underrepresented groups who enroll in STEM programs will double from the level in 2006-07, by maintaining a steady increase of about 20% per year improvement from the previous year.

2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12
384 390 462 547 648 768

Fig. 7 Underrepresented STEM Majors by Academic Year: actual for 06-07; projected for subsequent years

(f) Students participating in STEEP will be more likely to persist in a STEM pathway after transfer than other STEM transfer students who were not in STEEP. This objective will be measured using data from the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal-PASS) data system.


Form and convene an External Advisory Committee which includes members from industry, local transfer universities and K-12 STEM educators. 3/08-5/08
Develop curriculum for the Energy Laboratory Academy and the Precalculus Preparedness Seminar and recruit 38 student participants in the first year of the grant, with a total of 270 students participating over the course of the grant period. 4/08-8/08
Form a cadre of at least 10 student teaching assistants per year for the summer Energy Laboratory Academy and Precalculus Preparedness Seminar who are current STEM majors or Cabrillo alumni who are pursuing STEM majors at the university level. 3/08-7/08
Recruit high school seniors and Cabrillo students who have recently begun their studies for the summer Energy Laboratory Academy with a goal of at least 20 students in the cohort. Fifty percent of these students will be from groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields. 4/08-7/08
Implement the first Energy Laboratory Academy that will result in at least 35% of the students electing to major in a STEM field. These will be students who had previously not intended to pursue a STEM field. 8/08
Recruit students who attempted but did not pass Precalculus during the two previous semesters, for the Precalculus Preparedness Seminar. 4/08-6/08
Implement the Precalculus Preparedness Seminar that will result in student participants improving their mathematics skill to a level that will allow success in Precalculus the following semester at a success rate 20% greater than their non-participant counterparts. Of these students 35% will decide to change their majors to a STEM field. 7/08
Expand tutoring, counseling and facilitated study groups during the summer to 30 hours per week in the MESA Transfer Study Center. 6/08-8/08
Recruit students to participate as interns for the Cabrillo Sustainability Team to collect and analyze carbon dioxide production data, research and plan for reduction in carbon emissions and implement and evaluate carbon reduction measures. 8/08
Form partnerships with local industry and research institutions to place students into internships and undergraduate research opportunities at the rate of 5 per year for a total of at least 25 during the grant period. 6/08-10/09
Make internship placements at universities and with industry partners. 8/08-12/08
Develop a project evaluation plan that will chart several early indicators of students being transfer-prepared in a STEM major, including persistence in the major, success in the major, participation in an internship, participation as a tutor or workshop leader and completing of the calculus sequence. 4/08-1/09
Subsequent years will follow a similar schedule. 4/09- 3/13

Fig. 8 Workplan for Year 1 of STEEP


The management of the STEEP project will be housed in the Natural and Applied Sciences Division, with Wanda Garner, Division Dean, serving as supervising administrator of the project. She will be supported in this by her immediate supervisor, Dr. Renée Kilmer, Cabrillo’s Vice President of Instruction, as well as Brian King, the College President and District Superintendent. Project management and leadership will be provided by a PI, three Co-PIs and internal and external advisory committees. The Cabrillo College physics, engineering, solar energy and mathematics faculty will support curriculum development in consultation with university and industry partners. The evaluation and tracking components of the project will be provided by Craig Hayward, Director of Research and Planning, and by Terrence Willett, an independent researcher with experience in community college program evaluation and NSF grants.

Roles and responsibilities

Susan Tappero will serve as the PI and Karen Groppi, Joe Jordan and Donna Mekis will serve as the Co-PIs. They will supervise all project personnel; lead curriculum development; secure facilities and equipment; coordinate with the project partners; manage course and facilities scheduling; oversee evaluation; and perform all other tasks related to full implementation of this proposal.

  • Dr. Susan Tappero has 15 years of experience in higher education science and math teaching and directing STEM transfer programs, and in developing and implementing special grant-funded projects. She currently serves as the director of the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program at Cabrillo College. She is very experienced in working successfully with underrepresented students and designing ways to support them through pursuit of careers in the STEM fields.
  • Joe Jordan is a Cabrillo faculty member who teaches renewable energy and photovoltaics courses. He has worked as an atmospheric and space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center and with the SETI Institute. He does extensive science education and community service work, much of it relating to astronomy and renewable energy, including some radio and TV programs. Joe has overseen the project management of several education grants and has served on the Board of Directors of Ecology Action of Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz City Energy Working Group.
  • Donna Mekis has extensive professional experience and an academic background in the area of community college transfer. She founded the Cabrillo Transfer Center and is a recognized authority on the model for this statewide institution. She authored California Community College Transfer: Recommended Guidelines, adopted by the California Chancellor’s Office in 2006 and used as a training tool for new Transfer Center Directors. She is currently serving as the MESA Counselor.
  • Karen Groppi is a registered professional engineer in the state of California. After 17 years of professional experience in design, construction and project management she has been teaching engineering at Cabrillo College for 8 years. In collaboration with Cabrillo’s MESA Program, she has done extensive curriculum design integrating the use of community service project-based learning projects in engineering. She is the faculty adviser to the campus Sustainability Club.
Partnering Institutions, Industries and Agencies
  • Independent Energy Systems, a local solar installation firm
  • REgrid Power, Inc. of Campbell, CA., a large solar installation firm
  • Quest-world of Berkeley, CA., an energy conservation firm
  • GRID Alternatives of San Francisco, CA., a non-profit agency
  • PG&E, California’s largest public utility company
  • University of California, Santa Cruz, School of Engineering, Electrical Engineering Dept.
  • San Jose State University, Department of Electrical Engineering
Cabrillo’s STEEP Advisory Committee

Dr. Renée Kilmer , Vice President of Instruction

Wanda Garner, Dean of Natural and Applied Sciences & AMATYC Past President

Dr. Harry Ungar, Chemistry faculty, previous Program Officer in DUE/NSF

Terrence Willett, independent professional evaluator, previous college research director

Dr. Craig Hayward, Director of Planning and Research

Dr. Doug Brown, Physics faculty

Dr. Carlos Figueroa, Physics and Engineering faculty.

STEEP’s External Advisory Committee

This committee will be formed by including appropriate representatives of each of the partnering educational institutions and agencies, industry sectors, and community service organizations.


Our goal is to develop a succinct panel of key performance indicators that will allow us to assess the effectiveness of our outreach strategies, our student engagement strategies and our student learning & progress. Indicator Areas Assessed Time Frame Goal Track STEM majors Outreach Annual Increase number of participating students declaring a STEM major Number of Transfer Admission Guarantees Progress Annual Increase number Number of STEEP students in each cohort Outreach Annual Increase STEM majors, especially within underrepresented population Focus groups Engagement Annual Increase reported student engagement Skills assessments Learning Twice per semester Increase level of student mastery of course materials Survey of student engagement & procedural knowledge Engagement Annual Establish baseline and improve student engagement Number of STEM units Progress Each semester Increase average number of lifetime units and the rate of unit accumulation Track number of transfers Progress Annual Use the NSC (National Student Clearinghouse) database to identify former student participant destinations Fig. 9 Key Performance Indicators for Summer Energy Lab Academy & Precalculus Preparedness Seminar X. Dissemination

STEEP faculty and staff have an extensive professional network of contacts and collaborators that will ensure that the project findings are shared widely to facilitate discussion of best practices and to serve as a model for replication on other college campuses. The dissemination of results from STEEP will be made in many forums and by oral and written presentations at numerous forums:

  • Presentation to California Association of MESA Directors (CAMD)
  • Presentation to the annual conference of the American Solar Energy Society
  • Presentation to American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment conferences
  • Presentation to the American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges (AMATYC)
  • Website, informational video and marketing brochures
  • Articles for submission to peer-reviewed academic journals, such as those published by the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges
  • Presentation at regional and national conferences of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME)
  • Presentation to Minority Engineering Programs (MEP) at California’s largest transfer colleges and universities
  • Presentation at researcher conferences such as the Research and Planning Group and California Association of Institutional Researchers (CAIR).
  • Presentation to the California Community Colleges at annual conferences
  • Annual evaluation reports and meetings among stakeholders

Cabrillo administrators are enthusiastic in their support for the STEEP proposal and have pledged to institutionalize the program after the grant period ends to the extent possible, using a new funding stream from its status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Discussions are already underway to identify the strategies that are most worthy of duplication on campus. Three aspects of institutionalization have already been determined:

  1. The Cabrillo Sustainability Team program is institutionalized by nature of its origin in the Presidents Climate Commitment. The specific college-wide actions required, including pedagogical mandates for integrating sustainability into curriculum, institutionalize these activities. This work has the support of the Faculty and Student Senates, College Planning Council, the college President and Board of Trustees. Furthermore, the Cabrillo Sustainability Internships should be highly replicable, as 381 higher education presidents have signed the Presidents Climate Commitment to date.
  2. Information collected in the Precalculus Preparedness Seminar will be used by the math department to institutionalize necessary curriculum changes for the success of future Precalculus students.
  3. Cabrillo’s administration and faculty are committed to find a larger and more permanent facility that will support an increase in the college’s ability to promote transfer success for students in STEM majors. This growth in facilities would be accomplished by significantly expanding the size of the MESA Center, while maintaining its central location among the math and science departments.


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