Written by Tiffany Nguyen, CSU STEM VISTA 2015-16 Cal Poly Pomona Maximizing Engineering Potential
Maximizing Engineering Potential (MEP) of Cal Poly Pomona aims to serve first-generation, low-income, and/or historically underrepresented students in engineering. We emphasize the first-year experience, which involves placing students in cohorts, mandatory tutoring sessions, weekly workshops, and assigning them a mentor in order to better navigate their time in college. Our program currently consists of over 600 active students, 19 tutors, 29 mentors, and 133 mentees. Weekly workshops, industry presentations, a tutoring center, a peer mentoring program, quarterly events, scholarships – MEP has it all!
… Except for one thing: staff members. MEP is currently ran by four full-time staff members: me, Noe, Nita, and Lily. Although we each have our own responsibilities, the lines between job descriptions become blurred when the program has such a small staff. There were times that this hindered our abilities; when the College of Engineering asked us to help out for an upcoming event, the MEP staff had to attend a meeting that ran at the same time as one of our workshops. Due to a lack of staff presence, the workshop had to be cancelled. But in more cases than one, having a limited number of staff has allowed our program to stay on our feet and see this as less of a roadblock and more as a characteristic that makes MEP unique:
Incorporating student involvement. MEP heavily depends on our students to help set up for our events. During our Winter Challenge event, we organized a friendly competition between students to see who can build the tallest tower made of spaghetti sticks and marshmallows. We had over 300 people in attendance and without the help of our students, this event would not have been possible. Over 40 volunteers contributed either by assembling kits, decorating the venue, manning the registration table, cleaning up, and more.
Collaborating with other organizations. MEP works closely with industry supporters, the campus career center, health and psychological services, and engineering departments to best serve our students. Earlier this month we hosted the Peer Mentoring Consortium, where organizations on campus are invited to come together and share their peer mentoring programs. We discussed how our programs operate, our funding sources, and more. In the end, it was suggested that we pool our resources and combine our mentor trainings. This not only standardizes the expectations for mentors across all programs but creates a system where each program can learn from each other’s successes and build upon them, rather than working independently and making the same mistakes twice.
Letting go. With so much going on, I have often questioned where I should be putting my efforts. Are we at MEP spreading ourselves too thin? Should we focus on certain things? But rather than micromanaging and overseeing every little thing that happens within MEP, I had to let things go. This puts more responsibility on our students, especially our tutors and peer mentors. But with this responsibility, they are able to grow as leaders. Letting the tutors come up with their own lesson plan or having the mentors set up their own meeting with their mentees lets the students own their roles and truly make MEP a program that benefits them.
Where MEP lacks in quantity, we make up in quality. Although having a small staff can be challenging, it is certainly what drives our program to be centered on our students. When I see students go in and out of our tutoring center, familiar faces walking together to class, or hear about the successful interactions between a mentor and mentee, I know that what we are doing is creating an environment where students to feel welcome and empowered to succeed.