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Peer Assisted Learning Program (PAL) Center for Science & Math Success

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PAL Research

The PAL program is constantly adapting to best serve our students. The best ideas for how to do this often come from students themselves. Consequently, all of our Facilitators design and implement research projects to study what works best for their students. Many Facilitators go on to present their projects or other aspects of the PAL program at national conferences. Sample projects, design details, and a partial list of conferences appear below.

The PAL faculty also regularly analyze the program's effectiveness, measured in diverse ways. This work involves students, institutional research, and statistics faculty. Some of our data and analyses are published or presented nationally, others are for internal use but available upon request.

Student Research

All PAL Facilitators conduct year-long research projects as part of our seminar, NSM 197. In the Fall, Facilitators use backwards design to generate ideas for these projects. They start by determining something they want their students to know, understand, or be able to do. Then they figure out how they could measure whether this was successful. Lastly, they come up with an intervention to try out in their own classroom which they believe would have the intended effect.

Of the many ideas generated, a handful are chosen and Facilitators self-select into interdisciplinary research teams of 5-10 members. The remainder of the Fall semester consists of developing a rigorous methodology including statistical analysis, and completing an extensive literature review to inform the background of the project.

In the Spring semester, Facilitators carry out the interventions in their classrooms and collect data. Near the end of the semester they analyze their data, draw conclusions, and consider confounding effects and drawbacks to their methods. This is all summarized in a poster, all of which are presented during finals week at the PAL Research Symposium, attended by families and friends, faculty and administrators, community partners and PALumni. Sample posters from recent years appear below.


2023-24 Research Projects:

2022-23 Research Projects:

2021-22 Research Projects:


Student Conference Presentations:

PAL Facilitators regularly present both on and off campus. In addition to the PAL Poster Symposium, they often present their research posters above at campus research symposia and poster sessions. But many also have the opportunity to travel to national conferences, presenting on certain aspects of the program or running workshops. Some select examples include:

  • Peer Led Team Learning International Society (PLTLIS), Rochester, 2024
  • Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institution Educators (AHSIE) Best Practices Conference, San Francisco, 2023
  • PLTLIS, Dallas, 2018
  • AHSIE Best Practices Conference,Chicago, 2018
  • AHSIE Best Practices Conference, Las Vegas, 2017
  • AAC&U Transforming STEM Higher Education, San Francisco, 2017
  • California Peer Leadership Conference, San Diego, 2016pal-facilitators-ahsie-chicago.jpg

Faculty Research

PAL faculty work with undergraduate students, College of NSM faculty, and the office of Institutional Research, Effectiveness, and Planning to continually study the PAL program from different perspectives. While some of our results are provided on this page, we have a wealth of other data which is available upon request. Contact for more information.

Much of the PAL program is grant-funded, and rigorous programmatic research allows us to continually compete for large federal grants. In particular, PAL has received major awards from the Department of Education (DoE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In addition to the conferences listed above with student co-presenters, PAL faculty have presented on the program at a variety of venues, including to CSU internal groups (STEM Collaboratives Summit, Math Council Colloquium, Learning Support Directors' Meeting) and international audiences (International Conference on Teaching and Learning, Joint Mathematics Meetings).


  • Lundmark, Paradis, Tashiro, Kapp, and Lowe. Development and impact of a training program for undergraduate facilitators of peer-assisted learning. Journal of College Science Teaching (2017). A description of the PAL interview, training, and observation processes with an emphasis on developing student leaders.
  • Glass, Karl, Mazzag, Negri, Pilgrim, Shanbrom, and Thobaben. Peer instruction in the CSU: A case study in mathematics with implications for STEM. (2022). White paper developed for the CSU Office of the Chancellor describing peer instruction in mathematics across the CSU system. Includes a comparison of programs, common goals and challenges, and system-wide recommendations.
  • Shanbrom, Norris, Esgana, Krauel, Pigno, and Lundmark. Assessing student success in a Peer Assisted Learning program using propensity score matching. Journal of College Science Teaching (2023). This statistical analysis indicates that students opting into PAL earn a 23% “bump” in their course grade. This study considered data from over 25,000 Sac State students over 7 years. Since PAL is an optional program, this analysis used propensity score matching to compare students with comparable academic and social backgrounds, ensuring that the grade boost is actually due to the students' participation in PAL. The chart below shows the PAL bump in all classes with sufficient data after accounting for covariates. View the data for each class as R Markdown files here.

gpa chart

Federal grants connected to PAL program:

  • NSF STEP, Project Pass, $2.0M, 2011-2018, Established PAL and Commit to Study programs
  • DoE DHSI, Project INSPIRE, $2.4M, 2015-2023, Utilizing data analytics and peer programs to increase retention and graduation rates for Hispanic and high needs students at Sac State
  • NSF S-STEM, Hornet Science Scholars, $1.0M, 2016-2020, Optimizing academic, professional, and social aspects of STEM transfer, including addition of PAL to upper division courses frequented by transfer students
  • NSF HSI STEM, Project ASPIRE, $1.8M, 2020-present, Expansion of the PAL program to the College of Engineering and Computer Science and launch of STEM-wide Hornet Leadership Academy
  • DoE DHSI, STEM4Equity, $5.0M, 2021-present, Further expansion of PAL program to courses serving health science majors and implementation of workplace skills development and leadership tracks within PAL

Sense of belonging in STEM:

Sample demographics:

Compared to the university as a whole, PAL students (the 762 who took a PAL in 2022-23) are

  • more likely to be URM (48% of PAL students, 42% of CSUS students),
  • more likely to be Pell eligible (53% of PAL students, 49% of CSUS students),
  • more likely to be First Generation (33% of PAL students, 30% of CSUS students).