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Engineering News Fall 2016

Electrical Engineering Adjunct Leads by Example

The School of Engineering is fortunate to draw top talent from industry as adjunct faculty for our graduate program. Read about Electrical Engineering’s Bob Schaffer, Ph.D., who exemplifies the best in engineering education and the Jesuit tradition of helping others.

One of the perks of being situated in Silicon Valley is our access to top-notch working engineers who serve as adjunct faculty in the School of Engineering graduate program. Bob Schaffer, Ph.D., senior research engineer at SRI International, is a prime example. His expertise in research and project management brings life to electrical engineering courses. But beyond his industry cred, Schaffer, as founder, president, and lead trainer for Elevate Tutoring, exhibits the Jesuit values we strive to instill in our students in the way that he leads by example outside the Santa Clara classroom as well.

"I started Elevate in March 2011 and run the organization in my spare time on nights and weekends," Schaffer said. Our mission is to close the achievement gap by providing financially disadvantaged students with free tutoring, training, scholarship, and work experience. In a nutshell, we train financially in-need college students to be high-quality math and science tutors for financially in-need middle and high school students," he explained.

Selected college students receive 55 hours of training and then provide 155 hours of tutoring. In return, they receive a $5500 scholarship to help defray their own education costs while gaining valuable experience and contacts along the way. "The three-fold support of training, experience, and funding may give them a 'free meal' through the scholarship," Schaffer said, "but the rest of the program teaches them to 'fish' and gives them skills that can help throughout their academic and professional careers."

"Our training focuses on fostering a growth mindset in our tutees by building a strong rapport," he continued. "This allows for an academically safe environment that promotes productive failure—learning from one's mistakes instead of being punished by them." Elevate is currently partnered with Downtown College Prep where the tutors provide free tutoring at three middle schools and high schools in San Jose, and with Breakthrough Silicon Valley, a non-profit that mentors and tutors in-need students, helping them get to college.

By the start of this school year, Elevate’s 48 tutors—14 of whom have been SCU students, including two Latina engineers—had provided more than 3,700 hours of free tutoring and received over $132,000 in scholarship funds, with an equal share slated for this year's tutors. Bioengineering major Alejandra Pacheco '17, a 2014-15 tutor, had "a lot of potential as an engineer," said Schaffer, "so after she completed the program we recommended her to various internships." The experience proved to be a windfall. Pacheco said, "The Elevate tutoring committee serves as my small network of professionals in addition to scholarship donors. It is very hard for Hispanics, especially first generation college students, to build a strong network. I was able to gain my first internship at a prominent semiconductor company and later went on to another biomedical device internship because of Elevate's help. I never expected all this two years ago when I applied to this amazing scholarship, but because of this opportunity my life has changed for the better and I am eternally grateful."

Recently Elevate "soft-launched" a for-pay arm that employs tutors who have finished the program. "So, beyond just teaching them to fish, we are now trying to provide them a pond," said Schaffer.

Learn more or donate to the program at

Electrical Engineering Adjunct Leads by Example, Elevate, Alejandra Pacheco

Elevate Tutoring trains and pays college students to tutor middle and high school students. Credit: Amber Glover