In a huge boost to getting more underrepresented minority students into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, Santa Monica College has been awarded a $5.8 million federal grant with UCLA to recruit such students, educate them and give them guidance and support.
The five-year Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Education. The SMC-UCLA grant was one of 34 such awards to California community colleges, all Hispanic-Serving institutions, totaling $37 million statewide.
The grant is considered particularly important as the U.S. strives to be globally competitive in the science-related professions and as it seeks to improve the percentages of underrepresented minorities – in this case, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and women – in these fields. Studies show that underrepresented minorities account for only about 18 percent of the science and engineering baccalaureates awarded and represent only about 28 percent of those in science and engineering occupations.
“Santa Monica College has an excellent transfer rate to such institutions as UCLA, and our science faculty is top-notch, but we’ve never had a concerted effort to move underrepresented minority students through our college into four-year institutions in the sciences,” said SMC Director of Grants Laurie McQuay-Peninger.
“This grant will provide a golden opportunity to get these students excited about the sciences and math and into high-paying and prestigious careers,” she said.
Funds will be used for a wide variety of strategies and activities to get students interested in science-related degrees and careers and guide them toward baccalaureate and graduate degrees. They include:
• Recruiting students by raising awareness of the career opportunities available in the sciences and the relevance of science careers to real-life applications.
• Offering special counseling, workshops and lecture series for students, as well as expanded professional development for faculty on effective teaching and learning practices to support traditionally underrepresented minority students.
• Introducing students to formal research principles and practices and providing opportunities for lab and field research, both at SMC and UCLA.
• Updating equipment and instruments to align with upper-division coursework and expanding instructional opportunities through the SMC Center for Environmental and Urban Studies.
• Offering summer bridge programs at UCLA through the Center for Community College Partnerships and the undergraduate UCLA Research Center.
McQuay-Peninger said the college will develop a STEM Scholars Program that will enroll 100 students per year to serve as the focal point for those interested in the sciences. Studies have shown that organizing students into such groups, or cohorts, greatly increases the chances of success for them, she said.