Lin Philpott, a junior from Castro Valley, recalls camping with professors Pam Motoike and Deborah Burke of the Service Learning Institute during her freshman year. “We bonded while making our dinner over the campfire,” she says. “I felt more connected to the campus. Taking a class and living together, we felt like family.”

Lin was part of Project Higher Ground – a residential community in Avocet Hall linked to academic coursework and extracurricular activities designed to enhance student learning and personal development.

Now in its third year, Project Higher Ground is made up of student groups based on academic and personal interests such as math, computer science, health, ethnic experiences and biology. Students in each group take a First Year Seminar course that directly ties with an additional course. For example, students may take a seminar on Technology and Society that connects with their section of pre-calculus. Faculty members from both courses work together to make a seamless transition from one class to the next.

Outside of class, two peer leaders coordinate activities to integrate students’ coursework with campus and community experiences. This year they look forward to taking field trips to Silicon Valley companies, exploring possible careers, doing special projects that showcase their skills such as making cellphone apps, and, of course, social activities such as pizza parties in the Avocet lounge.

The name Project Higher Ground was taken from the book, Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life, in which Pulitzer Prize-winning musician and jazz educator Wynton Marsalis relates the principles of jazz to lessons about life. When a jazz ensemble “swings,” each individual expresses a unique creativity, but through intense listening, and respect for each other’s rhythms and sounds, the group creates music that transcends. He calls it “ascending through engagement,”– reaching a higher ground.

The university’s Student Life and Academic Affairs divisions, which co-sponsor Project Higher Ground, have seen an increase in student satisfaction and academic success as a result of this program. All involved agree, it’s a great start on the CSUMB experience.  

Story by Jennifer Plueard. Photos by Richard Green.