Academic First Year Experiences

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

Matador Momentum: Fall 2018

Fall 2018 meetings: four Mondays from 12:30-1:45 p.m. in SH 422:

  • September 10
  • October 8 
  • November 5 (next up!)
  • December 3

Summer 2018 highlights:

Matador illustration and CSUN  letters.

  • Design and content for the NSO foldable "Need Help?" wallet card is complete and the cards look fabulous!
  • "Celebrations of Student Success": the 2018 nominees have been identified 
  • CSUN Parent Letters: we sent forward our suggestions in June (FTF) and early August (FTT)
  • The new "Four Steps" videos are in final production

Finals Giveaway photos: spring 2018

Students getting free final exam supplies near Oviatt Library Students getting free final exam supplies near Redwood Hall

Building Momentum

Team Members: Matador Momentum

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

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 Jolly Dalferes, Associate Director, Career Center

Gabrielle Danis, Program Coordinator, Student Involvement and Development

Sangita Dube, Academic Advisor, Kinesiology Department

*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; Lecturer, Academic First Year Experiences

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

Emily Fitch, Graduation and Retention Specialist, Financial Aid & Scholarships

Noreen Galvin, Dean's Assistant, College of Humanities

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

>Lonni Lyons, Graduate Student, Educational Psychology and Counseling, College Counseling & Student Services option

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

>Habiba Naqvi, CSUN student  

Elizabeth Poloskov, Staff Psychologist, University Counseling Services

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, Faculty President

Mark Stevens, Professor, Educational Psychology & Counseling

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


Former student members

Stacey Aguila, Associated Students

Victor Grau (graduated May 2017)

Nicole Kucera (graduated May 2016)

Claus Offersen (graduated May 2017)

Chelsea Turner (graduated May 2016)   

Erika Villalvazo

Brianna Wilcox (graduated May 2016)

Matadors Rising: the campaign for student success

GI 2025, a project of the 23-campus California State University system intended to "remove obstacles to receiving a baccalaureate degree," was announced by the Chancellor's Office in summer 2016. 

CSUN re-branded our GI 2025 project with the name "Matadors Rising." Matador Momentum was a source for many elements of the Matadors Rising campus plan (including the student success campaign and the establishment of a targeted peer mentor program).  

Several other strategies proposed by Matador Momentum were also been adapted for the campaign, including Data Champions, graduation incentives for students, the shift to a 15-unit course load as the default starting point for advising sessions, and the 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 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: in fall 2017 and spring 2018 students received end-of-semester 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


The CSUN Mentorship Program

The CSUN Mentorship Program was established with funding from GI 2025 (Matadors Rising) in spring 2017. It has focused on building student success for all participants. 

1100 students opted to participate in the program. Of those 1100, 200 had a one-on-one peer mentor.  The others received monthly email blasts and were invited to join in at various campus events.

The program achieved 100% persistence for participating students measured from spring 2017 to fall 2017. Fall-to-fall freshman persistence at the campus as a whole hit an all-time high of 80.7% (for freshmen who started in fall 2016 and continued their enrollment through the start of the fall 2017 semester), a number representing a significant upturn after many years when the one-year rate had hovered at 76%. 

Matador Moments video challenge

Matador Moments video competition photo montage with #matadormoments2018 hashtag.

This contest, sponsored by Information Technology in partnership with the Office of Student Involvement and Development and the Office of Academic First Year Experiences, invited all CSUN students to enter the "Matador Moments: Freshman Challenge." Participants were asked to create a video that would "inspire an incoming student to discover a CSUN connection by telling your first year Matador story." The winning video will be screened as part of New Student Orientation (in August 2018). It is posted along with the top runners-up on the Matador Moments website:

MataCare Grants at CSUN (and other micro-grants elsewhere)

MataCare Emergency Grants: "The MataCare Grant Fund was established through generous contributions from alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the university who want to assist in removing unanticipated financial roadblocks to student degree completion and well-being.  The Grant is not a loan and does not need to be repaid."  

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.

Demystifying Office Hours for your CSUN Students

12th-century dragon chomping down on a hapless victim

Teach your students how to go to office hours.  Once they know what to expect from an office hour visit, they're far more likely to take you up on the invitation to come by--and far less likely to believe they will be eaten alive in the process.

Workshops and resources hosted by Matador Momentum

Helping New Students Thrive: Applying Dr. David Yeager's 'Psychological Friction' Model at CSUN (September 2017)

  • In this workshop, participants will discuss David Yeager’s model for “Sources of Psychological Friction” and customize his work to reflect challenges often faced by new students here at CSUN.  Attendees will also gain a better understanding of how to help students overcome these challenges. Dr. Yeager delivered CSUN’s 2017 Terry Piper Lecture: The Psychology of Academic Achievement: How Belonging & Mindset Influence Student Success.  (See

"Taking Action to Build Matador Momentum for CSUN Students" (January 2017 Faculty Retreat)

  1. Demystifying Office Hours for Your Students
  2. Making the Most of Automated Email Replies
  3. New Student Icebreaker 
  4. Paths to Information: the CSU Student Success Dashboard (in the CSUN Portal) and Canvas Course Analytics (in Canvas courses)

"Providing Better Feedback"

  1. Session handout: Providing Constructive Feedback
  2. Link to Yeager's article "Addressing Achievement Gaps with Psychological Interventions"
  3. Upper Division GE New Transfer Student Project, AY 2016-2017: Issues, Resources, and Pedagogical Approaches for Faculty

Overview of University 100 for Stretch Composition Faculty (April 2016) (.pdf)

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).

* 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.

Matador Momentum in the news

Matador Momentum Team Members (some but not all): Jolene Koester Team Award Nomination 2018Although we didn't win, the team was honored to be one of thirteen teams nominated for the Jolene Koester Team Award at the 2018 CSUN Staff Service Awards & Recognition of Excellence event.

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.

15 to Finish: the 15-unit semester load

15 to Finish

Matadors Rising--CSUN's student success campaign--has promoted three tag lines to encourage students to persist and complete their degrees:  "15 to Finish," "Think 30," and "We Can Do This." 

Institutional Research at CSUN is charting the number and percentage of first-time freshmen taking 15 units or more in their first semester. The campaign to increase freshman unit loads launched with the fall 2016 semester. The accompanying graphic shows that we may be making progress--but the trend line is too short to know for sure (and it is probably complicated by the fluctuating size of each year's entering freshman class). Chart showing percent of new freshmen taking 15+ units in fall 2011-2017: unclear trend

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.

Meta-majors, choice paralysis, and pathways

When Matador Momentum first launched in early 2016, there was substantial initial interest in speeding students' progress to degree by narrowing the number of available pathways. The benefits to banishing "choice paralysis" seem clear: degree completion becomes a well-defined series of sequential steps. The devil, however, is in the details: exactly what are the appropriate steps? At what point should intrusive advising be permitted to foreshorten a student's choice of major and career? Who decides which courses are part of the pathway and which are abandoned by the wayside?

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.)

The California context: the state legislature and the CSU 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.

Matador Momentum: Year Three Progress Report (September 2018)

This report marks the end of our participation in the three-year project "Re-imagining the First Year of College," which was sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges & Universities:

Progress Report for Matador Momentum, September 2018 (.pdf)

Going forward, we will report to CSUN's Student Retention & Graduation Committee. 

Matador Momentum: Year Two Progress Report

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

Progress Report for Matador Momentum November 2017 (.pdf)

Matador Momentum: Year One Progress Report

Within its first year (after AASC&U hosted the RFY kick-off in Austin, Feb. 2016), the Matador Momentum team made substantial progress by working collaboratively across campus.

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

Matador Momentum: Initial Report

This document was our first report on our plans for Matador Momentum: 

Overview of CSUN's RFY Strategies, Timeline, and Metrics (8/2/16) (.pdf) 

A companion piece identified who was taking the lead on individual parts of the plan: 

Champions: who's doing what? (9/19/16) (.pdf)