Lindsey Herring almost changed majors after the theft of her calculator threw her into an academic crisis. A lecturer's subsequent help and understanding led Herring to start a program to assist other students caught in tight spots. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)
By Dixie Reid
Someone took Lindsey Herring’s graphing calculator while she was on campus studying for a Statistics midterm exam. She had no money to replace the $100 device.
The next day she went to class, planning to tell the professor what had happened.
“I rehearsed what I was going to say, but when I walked in, I sunk into myself in confidence,” Herring said. “I didn’t say anything.
“I was so embarrassed, because everyone else had a calculator, and nobody else looked like me, because I was the only minority in the class. I thought, maybe I’m not supposed to be here anyway.”
She flunked the exam, and her overall grade took a significant hit.
Devastated, Herring decided to change her major, to Theatre & Dance, but she was dissuaded by a campus advisor who insisted that she first talk to the lecturer who had administered the midterm.
- For assistance, contact Crisis Assistance & Resource Education Support (CARES) at 916-278-5138 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dane Fleshman, who teaches in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, was sympathetic and allowed Herring to re-take the exam in his office.
“A basic calculator was required in the class, because the exams pose complicated calculations with data sets,” Fleshman said. “If a student forgets their calculator and no one can loan them one, I will let them use my spare.”
Armed with the loaned calculator, Herring aced the test, and because of the experience, a light went on.
Knowing other students who abandoned their pursuit of a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields because they could not afford some of the materials -- safety goggles, lab coats, calculators, textbooks -- needed for the major, Herring acted. She was inspired to create the Grace Project, meant to ensure that all STEM students can get the essentials they need.
University President Robert S. Nelsen heard about Herring’s initiative and provided a significant financial boost by making a $10,000 donation to the Grace Project from his President’s Circle fund.
“Unfortunately, too many of our students cannot afford basic needs, let alone the equipment required to pursue a career in a STEM field,” Nelsen said. “The world needs more students like Lindsey Herring, who is making a difference for students pursuing STEM careers. Sacramento State and the President’s Circle are proud to support the Grace Project.”
Herring, who expects to graduate in Spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and a double minor in Chemistry and African Studies, works in the Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) Program within the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics (NSM).
It was in PAL that the Grace Project was born, during a conversation with Jennifer Lundmark, the program's director.
“I’m concerned about increasing the diversity of our STEM graduates,” Lundmark said. “I asked Lindsey to help me understand how we can retain students of color, and the stories just started coming out about the barriers she and her friends have faced. Her idea was to pilot a project to promote the success of her peers.
“And then President Nelsen hears about the Grace Project and immediately puts money in it," she said. "There is an authentic care of students here that I don’t think every university has the privilege to enjoy.”
To determine need, NSM students identified as low-income by the University will receive a Grace Project survey, asking them to list materials they need to help them succeed. Their wish list could range from closed-toe shoes, required for lab classes, to a pricey textbook.
Lundmark said she is hopeful that other colleges will adopt the Grace Project model.
“Our students are amazing in terms of their humility and the way they move through the world,” she said. “They don’t call attention to the fact that, ‘I don’t have this.’ We have students who just muscle through, and for a STEM major, that is so incredibly difficult.
“When I write letters of recommendation for students for graduate programs, and I see their personal statements, I realize the magnitude of what they have shouldered and navigated through in order to get where they are,” she said. “We need to help them in ways that we don’t necessary know. We need to ask them what they need.”
Contact Jennifer Lundmark at email@example.com or 916-278-6659