CSU Channel Islands is set to lead the state in developing new methods by which to promote and graduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM subjects, after being selected to participate in a $4.6 million grant aimed at redesigning lower-level STEM courses.

The grant, provided by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, will be split between eight California State University campuses over a 20-month period. CSUCI will receive $375,000.

“It’s a powerful testimony to how CI is taking innovative approaches to help students succeed in STEM,” said Phil Hampton, professor of chemistry and the director of Project ACCESO; Hampton secured the grant, in a press release. “Through grant programs like this and Project ACCESO, CI is being recognized and supported as a leader in creating best practices for STEM student success that will be shared with our colleagues, both system-wide and nationally,” he said.

Project ACCESO, Achieving a Cooperative College Education through STEM Opportunities, is a project funded by the Department of Education to promote Hispanic-serving institutions with a $6 million fund. As part of the project, students are given assistance in transferring from local community colleges to four year schools, among other assistance.

Nationwide, STEM majors are falling by the wayside. Nearly half of students who apply for college and declare a STEM subject as their major, drop out or change majors within the first two years. At CSUCI, however, only a quarter of students follow the trend.

The grant will help CI integrate courses for better student retention. Subjects like English composition and chemistry, for example, could have interrelated content and assignments, while students are placed into groups of peers called learning communities that will remain together throughout their freshman year.

“These eight campuses are taking the lead in the CSU’s STEM-related innovation,” said Ephraim P. Smith, CSU executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer in a press release. “They’ve really thought about how the whole institution – from specific departments in math, science, and engineering, as well residential life and themed learning communities – can work together to boost student success in these high-demand fields.”