Leveling Up

UCLA Gets Creative with the NSBE Retention Program

On the Left Coast last summer, NSBE’s University of California, Los Angeles Chapter heard the directive to focus on Academic Excellence, from the National Executive Board. But it was local motivations that really got them to buy into the NSBE Retention Program.

“A lot of our upperclassmen were graduating, and we were losing a lot of our members. So we really wanted to make sure that we kept the members we did have, as we tried to recruit more,” explains NSBE UCLA Chapter President Ashly Ainley, a mechanical engineering student. “And talking to our Industry Advisory Board, we learned that their main priority was academics, and we wanted to make sure we were aligning our chapter with that.

“We want our members to get jobs at the end of the day,” she adds. “So in order to do that, we felt that academics was something we really needed to focus on.”

NSBE’s Retention Program was launched nationally in 2009 to improve the four- and five-year graduation rates of black college students in science, technology, engineering and math. Originally for freshmen, the program soon developed components for sophomores and juniors.

The Retention Program takes NSBE back to its roots. The National Society of Black Engineers was founded in 1975 by six African-American engineering students at Purdue University. These students wanted to stop the huge leakage of their peers from engineering programs at Purdue and other colleges and universities across the nation.

Novel Approach

Last summer, the UCLA chapter came up with a novel method of addressing the same problem. They call it “NSBEmon,” a name penned by chapter member Asya Hollins.

“It’s like Pokémon,” says Ainley.

In that famous, old-school video game, players, called “trainers,” collect fictional characters that have certain powers, and they train them to compete against teams owned by other trainers. The ultimate goals are to collect all of the characters and become the strongest trainer by defeating the other teams.

In NSBE UCLA’s version of the game, the Pokémon characters are replaced by good study habits, and the ultimate goals are to get top grades and stay in engineering.

“Over the quarter, we track certain study habits, and our members can log the study habits (and results) they’ve achieved on any day,” Ainley says. The activities tracked include visiting professors during office hours, going to class every day, doing homework before it’s due, reading assigned books for classes, improving on test scores, etc. “There’s a point system based on what you’ve done in order to move up a level. So at the end of the quarter, the team that has leveled up the most will be the winner.”

The results of the chapter’s first quarter of NSBEmon are in, and are encouraging. The chapter’s average GPA rose from 3.00 to 3.164. Ainley also reports increased morale among chapter members and an increased determination to identify and remove obstacles to academic success.

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