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Building Fresno State’s K-16 Pipeline

A picture is worth a thousand words.  This one has 1,002.

A bright-eyed Latina stands radiant in graduation cap and gown, her arms raised in triumph.  One hand grasps her cell phone and diploma.  The words behind her read Be Bold.

Emboldening students to fulfill seemingly impossible dreams energizes Joseph I. Castro, California State University Fresno’s eighth president and the first Central Valley native in that role.  The first member of his family to attend college, Castro, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and of Stanford University – where he earned a doctorate in higher education policy and leadership – knows firsthand about beating the odds.  Castro is betting on the university’s support of the Central Valley Promise, a college pipeline designed to transform the region that has one of the lowest college-going rates in the nation.

The Promise pipeline is a technology-assisted, K-16 success pathway offering what university leaders say is a “continuum of learning that generates the best possible opportunities for college, vocation training, and other career choices.” Youth can sign a pledge to join the pipeline as early as sixth grade.  Funding that Fresno State received from the Transformational Planning Grant (TPG) project is helping build it.

Launched by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) in partnership with the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) and funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMFG), TPG is prodding institutions nationwide to confront student success challenges by changing higher education and transforming lives.  A centerpiece of the initiative is Fresno State’s  DISCOVERe, a tablet-focused transformation that is helping to educate and prepare youth for college, make tablets available to students and faculty, and build collaborations with the region’s nine Hispanic-serving unified school districts and community and city colleges.

Change has been dramatic, sometimes rocky.  At a TPG session held at APLU’s 2015 Annual Meeting, Fresno State leaders recalled that the tablet initiative was announced in the media prior to engaging Fresno State faculty.  Lynnette Zelezny, provost and vice president for academic affairs, fielded calls from concerned faculty members as the university sought a faculty forward solution.

Eventually leaders decided rather than mandate faculty to use technology in classroom learning why not empower tech savvy faculty members nominated by deans to become early adopters of the transformation project?

The idea inspired the “Presidential Fellows,” a network of 40 faculty members from Fresno State’s eight colleges who joined faculty nominated by community partners.  They received tablets, professional development, and public recognition that soon produced a waiting list for the program.

College faculty and K-12 colleagues, known in the community as Promise Ambassadors, are developing an app, designing new curricula using technology, and building partnerships across educational sectors.

The Central Valley Promise app together with DISCOVERe, and a physical (located in the library) and virtual one-stop student Help Desk, are helping pipeline students build content and technology mastery while focusing on college preparation.  The app tabulates digital badges representing a student’s learning progress. Badges are banked as accomplishments.  Students can later “cash in” badges as currency to gain admission to college athletic and cultural events or to receive personalized advising and counseling sessions at Fresno State.


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