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PRISM: A student-generated success story


Ariana Castillo, right, is one of two Sac State students who spearheaded the PRISM program.
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Sacramento State’s brand-new summer PRISM program is a student-generated success story in the making.

Principle Review for Incoming Students in Mathematics (PRISM) was conceived by a couple of Sac State students last spring to replace a successful math program that had lost funding. Ariana Castillo and Josh Iniguez believed they could gather a group of dedicated engineering students and fill the gaping hole.

While Ariana and Josh prepared for final examinations during the spring semester, they began developing a strategy that would help entering freshman engineering students pass the math diagnostic tests necessary to start at either pre-calculus or calculus in the fall semester. Academic excellence in those calculus courses was also part of their strategy.

Josh, Ariana and other officers of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) created a PowerPoint presentation on PRISM and presented it to incoming freshman engineering students and their families during an orientation night in early May. They also crafted a website for applications.

Jaime White, an administrator with MESA’s Engineering & Computer Science Program, began the process to secure funding commitments from AT&T and Northrop-Grumman to finance the five-week summer session.

Josh, Ariana and a dozen student volunteers began teaching different levels of math, from the basics to calculus, to 16 students on June 20. “We pre-tested everyone to determine their skill level,” Josh says. This enabled the student-instructors to work with individuals on their weaknesses. The students are tested each week to measure their progress. “Our goal,” Josh says, “is getting everyone to pass the diagnostic test that will qualify them for the math class they need.”

“We stress good math habits and how to work with their peers,” Ariana adds. The students are more likely to listen to older Sac State students who have not only the knowledge but also the experience of navigating college life.

A product of the previous program, Josh says this one emphasizes a student-to-student relationship. PRISM is intense, to be sure, but with enough informal touches to keep everyone engaged. Many of the students were spooked the first day, he concedes, because they didn’t know what to expect. But things are far more relaxed now that they see the progress they’re making.

Christian Mercado, a Jesuit High School graduate, believes PRISM is a good program. He just passed his diagnostic test that will get him on track next fall to pursue a degree in civil engineering. The summer session is enhanced by weekly guest speakers, such as Josh’s father, an electrical engineer for Caltrans. Moreover, all the Sac State students belong to SHPE. Last year, this dynamic student organization won a national championship at the SHPE Academic Olympiad in Cincinnati. Ariana was a member of the four-person championship team, and Josh was one of the many members present from Sacramento State.

Emir Jose Macari, dean of the Department of Engineering and Computer Science, is proud of these young men and women. “It’s been a pleasure seeing the personal growth of each of these students. Their involvement in PRISM is proof that not only do they work toward self-improvement, but are committed to helping other students.”

Committed is the operative word. Most engineering students are working during the summer. PRISM volunteers gave up paid positions and other opportunities to help incoming freshman engineering students develop a solid foundation in math. White, who hopes to provide them with a modest stipend once the funding comes through, is no less grateful for their ingenuity in crafting PRISM and making it work.

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