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Faculty Recognition

Physics Professor Awarded CSU Grant

The grant will help enhance an existing equitable learning model at Cal Poly.

A Cal Poly physics faculty member has been awarded a California State University CREATE grant toward achieving student success and equity.

The “Agents of Change” CREATE grant was awarded to Cal Poly professor Dr. Laura Ríos, who will collaborate with faculty at San Jose State University and San Francisco State University to enhance an existing Learning Assistant (LA) model toward equitable learning pathways for students.

The model has been used with success in some universities elsewhere in the country and some departments at Cal Poly have started to incorporate the presence of Learning Assistants in the classroom.

Learning Assistants help facilitate group discussion and urge students to ask questions and talk through challenges, overall promoting active learning. Many Learning Assistants will be third- and fourth-year students who will have taken the courses that first-year or second year students need help in, Ríos said.

The grant will help understand how to institutionalize the LA program, promoting its use throughout California State University campuses.

“It’s about active learning and helping students embrace the idea that talking is learning,” Ríos said. “Especially in physics where things tend to be highly computational, and maybe there’s some intimidation factor, having someone there who isn’t your professor can help get students talking, asking questions and contemplating the contents of their own mind.”

Ríos has already invested significant amounts of time in growing the nascent program at Cal Poly, which the grant will help improve upon.

“It will give access to some folks who might otherwise feel like physics is beyond them,” Ríos said. “The Learning Assistants aren’t meant to be content experts, but they might remember a tricky part in this lab and ask students ‘Have you thought about this part? What about this aspect?’ They still remember the struggle and how to think and work through it.”

A woman in a black blouse looks at the camera for a professional headshot.
Laura Ríos.