Hero Image
Professor Jennifer Lundmark is this year’s John C. Livingston Lecture honoree.
graphic element, Sac State logo

Honored Lecturer Says Let the Students Lead


Ahmed Ortiz

Jennifer Lundmark’s reaction to learning she would be this year’s John C. Livingston Lecture honoree was denial.

“I don’t feel like I’m qualified,” she told a visitor to her office before deciding that receiving Sacramento State’s most prestigious in-house faculty honor is “humbling” and “surreal.”

However Lundmark feels about the honor, it’s no surprise to students whose lives have been profoundly affected by the Department of Biological Sciences professor, who came to the University in 1996.

“It is difficult to fully articulate the impact Dr. Lundmark has had on my life and so many others,” says Melissa Bardo, a former Associated Students Inc. president who wrote a letter supporting Lundmark’s Livingston candidacy. “She is simply the best.”

Lundmark’s lecture, delivered Feb. 19, was titled “Students as Partners: Cultivating Leadership and Lifelong Learning.”

The lecture was directly inspired by the Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) program, of which Bardo is a veteran. Lundmark established PAL at Sac State in 2012. The program puts students in positions of leadership in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, providing academic and social support, especially for first-year students who reap the benefits of community-building “holidays” such as “PALoween” and “PALentine’s Day.”

With peers in charge, students begin, as Lundmark says, to “carve their own pathway.”

“Partnering in this way requires us to ignore some traditional boundaries, to let go of our belief that we must be the leaders, and to keep an open mind about our students’ capabilities,” Lundmark said in her lecture.

It can be uncomfortable and scary, she said, but also groundbreaking, and revolutionary.”

PAL has a measurable effect. One study showed that students taking a calculus class for the first time who also were in the program passed at a 90 percent rate, far above the 50 percent pass rate for students who weren’t.

It’s critical that these students succeed. STEM-related jobs were projected to grow by about 1 million in the decade from 2012 to 2022, to more than 9 million – an increase of about 13 percent – according to a 2014 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2012 reported the United States needed 1 million more STEM professionals than it was expected to produce over the decade from 2012 to 2022 “if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.”

Lundmark says she believes strongly in letting students lead. One PAL requirement of student facilitators – her “small army of resilience soldiers” – is that they annually work in teams to conduct research on student success. That way facilitators become stakeholders in the program’s long-term improvement.

“Academic success in any context is achievable if you work hard in a supportive environment.”
—Jennifer Lundmark

With its tiered structure, including four facilitators in supervisory roles who are referred to as “supers,” PAL essentially becomes self-policing, Lundmark says. She marvels at the high level of work the students produce when given responsibilities that correspond with the real world.

She is big on what students learn outside the classroom, but Lundmark’s lively lessons also set her apart. Her innovations seem to cross some traditional boundaries. For instance:

Need to teach all of human anatomy and physiology in one semester to a roomful of NCAA athletes with no science background? Capitalize on their natural inclination toward teamwork and competition by breaking them into teams, holding debates and featuring guest judges such as Sac State President Robert S. Nelsen and Vice President for Student Affairs Ed Mills. Or assign students to design plays that show how a muscle contracts and have them play the parts of molecules.

It’s about “valuing what they’re bringing,” Lundmark said. “They bring a lot to the table. How do we work this out in a way that will be interesting and fulfilling to you as a student?”


Ahmed Ortiz


Ahmed V. Ortiz is a writer/editor, working at Sac State since 2011, after a 13-year newspaper career. He is an avid cyclist, enjoys traveling and loves animals and most sports, especially baseball. Ahmed believes in doing no harm and that love is the only way.