Chemistry Boot Camp Wins Prestigious Statewide Award for Diversity and Equity

(L to R) The team from Santa Monica College which was present to receive the prestigious Dr. John W. Rice Diversity & Equity Award in Sacramento on Tuesday, July 19: Chemistry Professor Muriel Walker Waugh, President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, Chemistry Professor Dr. Roman Ferede, STEM student Diego Villegas, Associate Dean of Student Equity & STEM Dr. Melanie Bocanegra, VP of Academic Affairs Dr. Georgia Lorenz, STEM Student Services Specialist Vanan Yahnian.

California Community Colleges Interim Chancellor Erik E. Skinner (right) presents a Dr. John W. Rice Diversity & Equity Award to Santa Monica College’s Science and Research Initiative “Chemistry Boot Camp.” From left: SMC Chemistry Professors Dr. Roman Ferede and Muriel Walker Waugh, student Diego Villegas, and SMC Associate Dean of Student Equity & STEM Dr. Melanie Bocanegra.

Santa Monica College (SMC) is pleased to announce that its STEM Science and Research Initiative “Chemistry Boot Camps”—intensive faculty-led workshops which led to unprecedented success for African-American and Latino students in an introductory general chemistry class—has won a Dr. John W. Rice Diversity and Equity Award. SMC received the award at a ceremony held Tuesday, July 19 at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, Calif. The two other recipients were the Family Engagement Institute (Foothill College), and the Veterans Education and Transition Services Program (Saddleback College).

Established in 2001 and named for Dr. John W. Rice—a former member of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors—the award honors Dr. Rice’s legacy and recognizes individuals, programs, or community colleges that have made “the greatest contribution towards faculty and staff diversity or student equity.”

“Santa Monica College is honored to have our outstanding Science and Research Initiative’s Chemistry Boot Camp recognized as a recipient of the distinguished Dr. John W. Rice Diversity and Equity Award,” said Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, SMC Superintendent/President. “This is possible because of the dedication and commitment of the faculty, staff, and students involved. We look forward to continuing the important work of helping all SMC students fulfill their higher education and life dreams. And we will continue looking for ways to decrease disparity in achievement."

Officially launched in the spring semester of 2015, the boot camps sought to address the declining performance of SMC Black Collegians and Adelante students in a Chemistry 10: Introductory General Chemistry class (the two student support programs target and serve underrepresented students).

The results were drastic. According to a 2015 survey conducted by SMC Institutional Research, 62.5 percent of African-American boot camp participants passed Chemistry 10 over an institutional pass average of 41 percent; and 60 percent of Latino boot camp participants passed, over an institutional average of 38.5 percent. 96 percent of participants found them to be “very useful.”

SMC student Diego Villegas ended up with a ‘D’ the first time he attempted Chemistry 10. He re-enrolled the next semester and ended up in the classroom of Chemistry Professor Muriel Walker Waugh, who initiated the boot camps. She told him he had to attend.

“I realized how vital it is to spend a lot of time outside the classroom to learn the material,” said Villegas. “It helped me understand how to get organized. I now appreciate the time and effort that all the people at SMC put in to help me get the grades I deserve.”

On his second attempt, Villegas completed Chemistry 10 with a ‘B’. He hopes to transfer to UCLA or USC to major in molecular biology, and eventually attend medical school. He takes advantage of The Science and Research Initiative, an academic support program at SMC designed to help traditionally underrepresented students interested in STEM careers successfully complete their studies at SMC, transfer to a four-year research-oriented program and/or enter the STEM workforce.

The Chemistry boot camps now serve approximately 82 students, and run for 11 weeks each semester. STEM students serve as peer mentors and tutors, while chemistry and algebra professors cover material designed to give participating students a head start, and provide critical academic and life skills geared toward success in STEM fields.

“Our Boot Camps are an intense but fun experience for our students—the day begins with a pre-assessment of concepts, includes instruction and collaborative projects, and ends with a post-assessment to measure their progress,” said Walker Waugh. “I am just grateful to God that they have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives through Chemistry…when I see all our STEM students who have moved on to success, it just moves me beyond words.”

The Chemistry boot camps were funded by “equity funds” from the State of California, provided to community colleges to reduce gaps in academic achievement for student populations who may be impacted by issues of equal opportunity. For 2015-2016, SMC received approximately $1.9 million of equity monies, which fund a slew of programs, special activities, and pilot projects in addition to the boot camps.

"The California Community Colleges is the most diverse system of higher education in the nation,” said Keetha Mills, President and CEO of the Foundation for California Community Colleges, speaking of the state’s 72 community college districts and their 113 colleges which serve 2.1 million students each year. “The three programs we celebrated today are tremendous examples of the system-wide commitment to promoting access for all."

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