Academic First Year Experiences

Matador Momentum: Re-imagining the First Year of College at CSUN

Matador Momentum Team Meetings, Spring 2018

Matadors Rising Finals Giveaway "You Got This!"

Except for Feb. 21**, all spring 2018 meetings will take place in the conference room in SH 422, Undergraduate Studies on the Roof.

Spring 2018

  • January 26: Friday from 9:30-10:45 a.m., in SH 422
  • **February 21: Wednesday from 12:30-1:45 p.m., in SQ250A IT Conference Room (new location, this meeting only)**
  • March 27: Tuesday from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m., in SH 422
  • April 23: Monday from 12:30-1:45 p.m., in SH 422
  • May 11: Friday from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m., in SH 422

Matador Momentum and RFY: strategies and campus stories

Team Members: Matador Momentum

In the list of names below, * denotes team leaders, and > denotes student team members.

Tami Abourezk, Assistant Vice President, Undergraduate Programs

Karen Abramowitz, Coordinator, Supplemental Instruction and Tutoring, Learning Resource Center

Christopher Aston, Assistant Director, Student Involvement and Development

*Patrick Bailey, Director, Student Involvement and Development

Nyla Dalferes, Associate Director, Career Center

Gabrielle Danis, Program Coordinator, Student Involvement and Development

Sangita Dube, Academic Advisor, Kinesiology Department

Anne Eipe, Staff Psychologist, University Counseling Services

*Susanna Eng-Ziskin, Chair, Research, Instruction, & Outreach Services Department

Christina Espinoza-Guzman, Office of the Dean, Graduation and Retention Advising Specialist, College of Science and Mathematics

Autumn Fabricant, Supplemental Instructor, Upward Bound

Ryan Feyk-Miney, Research Coordinator, Office of Institutional Research

Ani Harutyunyan, Director, Student Services Center/EOP, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences       

*Helen Heinrich, Director, Data and Analytics, Academic Technology  

Teiana M. Jones, Senior Associate Athletic Director, Academic Services

Anne Kellenberger, Writing Programs Coordinator, Learning Resource Center

Kelly Kroeker, Administrative Analyst/Specialist, Academic First Year Experiences

Michael Kurland, Office of the Dean, Graduation and Retention Specialist, Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication

Nakaya Manning, Office of the Dean, Graduation and Retention Advising Specialist, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences

Debbi Mercado, Assistant Coordinator, Upper Division Writing Proficiency Exam; Lecturer, English and Academic First Year Experiences

Kristy Michaud, Director, Office of Student Success Innovations; Professor, Department of Political Science

Armine Minasyan, Lecturer, Developmental Math

>Habiba Naqvi, CSUN student  

Shiva Parsa, Director, Educational Opportunity Programs

Lisa Riccomini, Lecturer, Academic First Year Experiences; Assistant Course Director, University 100

*Cheryl Spector (team leader), Director, Academic First Year Experiences; Professor, English Department  

Mary-Pat Stein, Director of Queer Studies; Professor, Department of Biology

Mark Stevens, Professor, Educational Leadership & Policy Studies

Frank W. Stranzl, Associate Director, Employee Development and Communications

>Erika Villalvazo, CSUN student and Events Assistant for the University Student Union

Former student members

Stacey Aguila, Associated Students

Victor Grau (graduated May 2017)

Nicole Kucera, Upper Division Senator, Associated Students (graduated May 2016)

Claus Offersen, Marketing major, Finance minor (graduated May 2017)

Chelsea Turner, Graduate Senator, Associated Students (graduated May 2016)   

Brianna Wilcox, College of Health & Human Development Senator, Associated Students (graduated May 2016)

Progress to date for Matador Momentum (November 2017)

Here's what the Matador Momentum team has accomplished through early November 2017:

Progress Report for Matador Momentum November 2017 (.pdf)

Matador Momentum: First Year Progress Report (Feb. 2017)

AASCU hosted the RFY kick-off in Feb. 2016.  One year later, CSUN's Matador Momentum team has made substantial progress by working collaboratively across campus.

Here's the Feb. 2017 Matador Momentum Progress Report. (.pdf)

Matador Momentum: Strategies, Champions, and Examples

  1. Matador Momentum: Overview of CSUN's RFY Strategies, Timeline, and Metrics (8/2/16) (.pdf) 
  2. Champions: who's doing what? (9/19/16) (.pdf)
  3. Overview of University 100 for Stretch Composition Faculty (April 2016) (.pdf)
  4. Teach Your Students How to Go to Office Hours (.pdf): "It’s a learning experience to know what to say--to know how to act, how to approach them….   Do I bring an apple? Do I bring coffee?" --Upper-division CSUN student talking about why it wasn't a simple matter to drop in on a professor's office hours for the first time.  See also "Don't Be Alone during Office Hours" by Richard Freishtat (Tomorrow's Professor #1570, 22 May 2017), and Thinking outside the Office (Hours) by Fiona Rawle
 Close (Tomorrow's Professor #1587, 21 Sep 2017).
  5. CSUN Mentorship Program: launched in spring 2017 by the Office of Student Involvement and Development.

Taking Action to Build Matador Momentum for CSUN Students: Resources from the January 2017 CSUN Faculty Retreat

Demystifying Office Hours for Your Students

Making the Most of Automated Email Replies

New Student Icebreaker 

Paths to Information: the CSU Student Success Dashboard (in the CSUN Portal) and Canvas Course Analytics (in Canvas courses)

Providing Better Feedback:

Upper Division GE New Transfer Student Project, AY 2016-2017: Issues, Resources, and Pedagogical Approaches for Faculty

* During the discussion that concluded our Faculty Retreat session, CSUN faculty member Melisa Galván (Chicana/o Studies) offered an additional way to get students to come to office hours: 

She assigns her students a low-stakes writing assignment due the first week of class.  For this assignment she asks students to draft a formal one-page cover letter in which they introduce themselves to her and provide any details that they would like her to know (reasons for taking the course, specific learning styles, accommodations, etc).  This provides the opportunity for students to practice professional correspondence with the professor from the outset, and to express their commitment to succeeding in the course.  

 Subsequently, students then have until the third week of instruction to visit her during office hours to introduce themselves in person and discuss what they wrote.  As a reward, she provides them with a “free weekly assignment pass” that allows them to drop the lowest grade on a future weekly reflection paper.  

This idea could easily be adapted for quizzes or other low stakes assignments.  She has found that at least 1/2 of the class will come visit her in office hours — greatly facilitating her ability to learn their names and break down previous student perceptions of the faculty office as an intimidating space.

Matadors Rising: the CSU Graduation Initiative 2025 ("GI 2025") Student Success Campaign at CSUN

GI 2025 is a project of the 23-campus California State University system intended to "remove obstacles to receiving a baccalaureate degree." This update to the predecessor effort, GI 2015, was announced in summer 2016. Campuses submitted their draft plans about a month later, and began working immediately to implement them.

Here at Northridge, the campus renamed our local project "Matadors Rising" in early spring 2017. Matador Momentum was a source for many elements of the campus plan (including the student success campaign and the establishment of targeted peer mentors).  Several other strategies we proposed have also been adapted for the campaign, including Data Champions, graduation incentives for students, the shift to 15 units as the starting point for advising discussions, and expansion of the ExCEL and RAISE Your GPA courses

GI 2025 Overview:

CSUN draft campus plan:

 Matadors Rising student success campaign:

  • "soft launch" with website and posters, May 2017
  • comprehensive campaign launched during New Student Orientation, August 2017: postcards, posters, banners, lawn signs, giveaways, and more
  • A new Matadors Rising student success video debuted during New Student Orientation in August 2017; CSUN President Dianne Harrison screened the video during her 2017 Annual Fall Welcome Address to Faculty and Staff (video begins at 1:08:43). 
  • Finals Giveaway: students received scantrons, green books, pens, pencils, mini-notebooks, and high fives from Matador Momentum team members collaborating with CSUN Navigators and the Office of Student Involvement and Development.

Volunteers show off scantrons, green books, and other materials at the December 2017 Finals Giveaway


Meta-majors, choice paralysis, and pathways

Meta Majors: Integrated Courses of Study: this website maintained by Undergraduate Studies at CSUN provides an overview of meta-majors in the CSU and nationally.

Meta-Majors on CSU Campuses: this website (now maintained by Undergraduate Studies at CSUN) offers an overview of meta-majors. It includes examples from several campuses across the country, as well as resources from the one-day meta-majors CSU working conference (San Francisco, January 25, 2017).

Meet the "Meta-Major" by Byron ZumMallen. "Essentially, a meta-major is a designed program of courses that crosses different majors and fields but with similar content—focusing on, say, health sciences or STEM or liberal arts." Features Fullerton, San Francisco State, and Long Beach State, as well as Pasadena City College and Bakersfield College. (9/9/16)

Decision Time. Carl Straumsheim. Insider Higher Education. 24 August 2016. "While graduation rates hovered around 83 percent for students who finalized their major during their second semester or later, students who declared a major during their first semester in college and stuck with it were four percentage points less likely to graduate."

Better Advising Beats Free Tuition for Degree Completion, Say Experts. Goldie Blumenstyk, "The Ticker." Blog at 22 Feb 2016.

Guided Pathways Demystified: Exploring Ten Commonly Asked Questions about Implementing Pathways. Rob Johnstone, National Center for Inquiry & Improvement. A 20-page brief for allaying fears and questions concerning curricular pathways in college.  (Sent by RFY program director Jo Arney, 29 Feb 2016.)


Foiling the Drop-Out Trap: Completion Grant Practices for Retaining and Graduating Students. 22-page how-to, published jointly by the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities.  No date (but includes a reference published in 2015 and mentions Tim Renick of Georgia State U, who presented at the AASC&U Austin retreat).

Got an A in Algebra? That's Worth $120. Natasha Singer, New York Times 20 Feb. 2016. Overview of, a program which combines micro-grants and micro-badging to inspire students to stay on track for college.

Small Grants, Big Impact. Paul Fain, Inside Higher Education, 22 Feb. 2016.

When students face financial hardships, these colleges step up.  Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2016.

How to help more college students graduate.  The Upshot: New York Times blog, 21 Feb. 2016.

The 15-unit semester load

One question could boost graduation rates. Are you asking it? EAB Daily Briefing, 21 April 2017. Spoiler alert: "Is there any way you could enroll full-time, even for one semester?" See also this Inside Higher Ed report on the same nuanced and persuasive study, which was carried out by UT Austin's Center for Community College Student Engagement. The conclusions (and the nuances) seem applicable to students at four-year institutions as well.

How Colleges Encourage Students to Take 15 Credits.  Education Advisory Board, 22 Feb. 2016. An overview of what's happening around the country, including barriers to the 15-unit load and observations about which students are more likely to be able to carry 15 units.

How to Help More College Students Graduate. Susan Dynarski, "The Upshot." New York Times blog. 21 Feb 2016. Mentions the new "on-track Pell grant bonus" which will increase Pell grants for low-income students who enroll in 15 units per semester, and which will also provide support for three semesters per year for those students who want to speed up their progress towards a degree.

Re-imagining the First Year of College in the news

Some California state colleges focus on getting students through risky freshman year. Larry Gordon, EdSource, 22 Nov. 2017. Discusses several RFY campuses including CSUN.

Trio of Cal State University campuses look to keep first-year students in school. Andrew Edwards, Long Beach Press Telegram, 13 Aug 2016. Discusses CSULB, CSUDH, and CSUN.

Fixing the Freshman Year: Here's What College Sophomores Say.  Jaquie Lee. NPR ED, 4 Mar 2016. Blog.

Fixing a Broken Freshman Year: What an Overhaul Might Look Like. Byrd Pinkerton. NPRED, 25 Feb 2016. Profiles the RFY plans at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, MO.

California: the legislature and the California State University System

Why only 19% of CSU freshmen graduate on time--and what lawmakers plan to do about it. Jason Song, Los Angeles Times, 22 Feb 2016. California state Sen. Steve Glazer (a former CSU trustee) has proposed a bill to offer incentives to students who stay on track to graduate in four years.

CSU Undergraduate Outcomes Report: Graduation Rates, Persistence Rates, and Analysis of Factors Related to Outcomes.  1 Apr. 2016. A comprehensive report with system-wide data collected over several years, and with recommendations that are often in tune with the RFY project.