Fremont, Calif., July 13, 2020—A culture of supported learning at Ohlone College led student Shadi Elaridi from remedial mathematics all the way to paid internships at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and NASA’s Johnson Space Center before entry to Stanford University as a third-year transfer student majoring in engineering. Elaridi received the College’s Mathematics Student of the Year award in May 2020.
Elaridi is one of 1,700 students across the United States in a college math improvement initiative envisioned by the San Francisco non-profit organization Growth Sector, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve American competitiveness in global science and engineering leadership, and involving the Stanford Graduate School of Education in faculty professional development. Because mathematics has traditionally been taught sequentially, the implications for students like Elaridi who are placed in lower-level courses can be quite severe; prolonging and discouraging the completion of their math requirements.
With the help of the Ohlone Math Gateway (OMG) program and STEM Core, Elaridi surmounted obstacles to studying engineering. His accomplishments starkly contrast beliefs that people either are or are not mathematically inclined. The Science Technology Engineering and Math Core Model (STEM Core) is a pathway to further education and inauguration to work in technical and manufacturing fields. STEM Core faculty and support staff are learning teaching methods that differ from the “drill-and-skill’’ technique that dominates K-12 math instruction. The program accelerates how foundational skills are taught so that students are prepared for advanced level calculus in two semesters.
Having Ohlone College Professor of Mathematics Jeff O’Connell know his name from day one made STEM Core math really appealing, Elaridi says. O’Connell leads the OMG program—the STEM Core cohort at Ohlone. OMG is a gateway to removing obstacles to student success. Of students who started the STEM Core program with Algebra 2, 64 percent complete calculus within one year compared to only 16 percent of students statewide making equal progress.
“I was always OK at math, but now I realize math is the basis of everything a STEM student goes through,” Elaridi says. With that foundation, he plans to major in mechanical engineering at Stanford and combine design with entrepreneurial skills.
Within the STEM Core, Professor O’Connell has drop-in office hours and is consistently present throughout two semesters to contextualize and help create a learning community of STEM-majored students journeying together. He taught Elaridi through the developmental sequence of Algebra 2, Pre-calculus, Calculus and Differential Equations. Coincidentally, O’Connell was also a Stanford Ignited Teacher Fellow in Professor Chris Gerdes’ Dynamic Design Lab when Elaridi was interning at SLAC. Elaridi’s first visit to the Stanford campus was when O’Connell arranged a tour of the Stanford lab where he produced educational resources from autonomous vehicle experiments in August, 2019.
“I wrote about that in my admissions essay to Stanford. People think of professors as always teaching, never as the ones who are learning,” remarks Elaridi expressing his appreciation for O’Connell.
The Elaridi family moved to Qatar and then Lebanon when Shadi was in fourth grade. They returned to California for his senior year at Kennedy High School in Fremont. And while robotics competitions had captivated him in Lebanon, some fundamental concepts in math had eluded him. He had always seen himself going into science or engineering, but like many mathematically under-prepared students, he could easily have fallen off the track towards earning a bachelor’s of science.
Ohlone College Engineering Professor Rose-Margaret Ekeng-Itua, Ph.D., introduced Elaridi to the world of engineering. “He was always a great leader and team player—diligent, resilient and focused on producing high-quality work,” says Ekeng-Itua.
Professor O’Connell views Elaridi as the beneficiary of educators having and teaching a growth mindset. “If you graduate high school without completing calculus, you’re going to need a leg up,” says O’Connell.
Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck discovered the simple but groundbreaking concept of mindset to dramatically influence abilities to learn. Stanford’s Jo Boaler, a professor of education, has since advised community college faculty to develop their students’ positive mathematical mindsets through rich mathematical activities replacing rote learning, which emphasizes memorization of information through repetition.
Marina Gonzalez, Ohlone’s Student Support Specialist helps students in the STEM Core follow-through on assignments, arranges visits to companies like Tesla that hire future engineers, leads resume-writing workshops, and works with employers to host and mentor student interns with math and technical skills. Over the last five years, she has helped to arrange 26 student internships at SLAC, the linear accelerator facility affiliated with Stanford University and run by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The work is important and that’s why Stanford’s Graduate School of Education is guiding faculty professional development as a contribution to the STEM Core, an NSF-supported alliance of 25 U.S. community colleges to broaden participation from people in groups underrepresented in STEM academic pathways and careers.
“This is the way to address institutional bias that prevents so many community college students from going on to earn four-year degrees,” says Growth Sector Co-founder David Gruber and creator of the STEM Core Alliance.