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UC Riverside First Year Programs Held Up as a Model for the UC System

UC Riverside First Year Programs Held Up as a Model for the UC System

CHASS Connect students are more likely to stay in school, pass the entry-level writing requirement and earn better grades

(September 29, 2008)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- UC Riverside’s CHASS Connect program was featured this week at the University of California's “Best Practices Symposium" as a model for a successful freshman support.

UCR was one of only three campuses in the University of California system selected to make a presentation at the conference on UCLA’s campus, Friday, Oct. 3, said Melba Schneider Castro, UCR’s director of First-Year Success Programs.

As a presenter, she talked about the five research-based strategies that the program uses to foster student success and outcomes including: interdisciplinary alignment of course content; intentional collaboration and community development component; direct assistance with transitioning from high school to college; academic and personal support, and peer mentoring.

CHASS Connect is a year-long sequence of theme-based courses for freshmen within the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. Groups of 75 students meet for a large lecture taught by a faculty member and then are divided into smaller groups of 25 for weekly discussion sessions taught by a teaching assistant.

They also meet once a week for peer education workshops led by undergraduate students who have gone through the program. The workshops focus on topics such as study skills, time management and research within the university. The program, which started in 2002, doubled enrollment to 450 this year with a waiting list to get in.

Geoff Cohen, academic coordinator for CHASS F1RST programs, said CHASS Connect is designed to help freshmen make the transition to university life. The ultimate goal is for the students to stay in school and to graduate in four years, Cohen said.

“I have a young man whose parents worked up in the Central Valley as farm laborers. He’s just finishing up his master’s at San Diego State in social work,” Cohen said. “That’s a long-term goal for me.”

Academic success can be challenging at UCR where more than 45 percent of students are the first in their families to go to college and 44 percent come from low-income families, he said.

“Many of them do not understand what a university education can entail,” Cohen said. “The CHASS Connect program shows students how different disciplines ask questions of a subject and how the different faculty search for answers to those questions.

“We also provide a platform where students can develop skills crucial not only to their success at UCR, but to their success afterwards.”

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education David Fairris did a preliminary study of CHASS Connect in 2005. He found that CHASS Connect students were more likely to stay in school, pass the entry-level writing requirement and have a higher GPA than those in the comparison group.

Castro said a grant from the U.S. Department of Education will finance a more formal evaluation of the program. The evaluation will be piloted in the current academic year and fully implemented next year.

Cohen said the formal evaluation will allow for comparisons between a control group of students in CHASS Connect and a control group of students who applied to get in but weren’t accepted. Their success over four years will be mapped out, making it possible to compare the progress of similar students, say, of a young woman of a certain academic or economic background who is in the program with another young woman of similar background who is not in the program.

“This is one thing that UCR does really well,” Cohen said. “I’m glad to see that it is being recognized within the system as a best practice.”


The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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