October 8, 2019

$2.5M National Science Foundation Grant

SMC Stem students working with professor
Students in a Santa Monica College science lab. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Hispanic-Serving Institution Program has awarded Santa Monica College a five-year grant that will total nearly $2.5 million, which will allow SMC to consolidate the work of its STEM Science and Research Initiative and the Center for Teaching Excellence to develop an equity-minded student success culture, one that helps traditionally underrepresented students succeed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and careers. (Photo Credit: Ben Gibbs)

National Science Foundation Awards $2.5 Million Grant to Santa Monica College

Grant will Enable SMC to Foster “Equity-Minded” Student Success in STEM Through Faculty Professional Development, and More

SANTA MONICA, CA—The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Hispanic-Serving Institution Program has awarded Santa Monica College (SMC) a grant that will total nearly $2.5 million over five years. The grant—entitled “Fostering an Equity-Minded Student Success Culture – STEM through Faculty Development”—will allow SMC to consolidate the work of its STEM Science and Research Initiative and the Center for Teaching Excellence to develop an equity-minded student success culture, one that helps traditionally underrepresented students succeed in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and careers.

The NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering through grants and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, businesses and research organizations throughout the United States. Through its Hispanic-Serving Institution Program, the NSF focuses on enhancing the quality of undergraduate STEM education at HSIs, and seeks to increase the retention and graduation rates of students pursuing associate or baccalaureate degrees in STEM.

“The National Science Foundation is committed to supporting projects like this, with the potential to create more inclusive learning experiences and ensure that STEM undergraduate students have the support they need to achieve their educational goals,” said NSF Program Director Talitha Washington. “Beyond looking at students, this project will engage faculty, helping them develop effective strategies to create a culturally diverse student population.”

The five-year grant will allow SMC’s STEM Program to bring together and capitalize on the equity-focused work of the Science and Research Initiative and the Center of Teaching Excellence to study and create interventions that affect the success of students in STEM, including the use of curriculum and instructional practices. The work will take place under a “three-pronged” approach: professional development for faculty; pilot and assessment of research-based innovations; and dissemination of the project’s outcomes both within SMC and with higher educational institutions across California and the U.S.

“The impact of this grant will extend well beyond the length of its tenure,” said SMC Earth Science Professor Dr. Ciaran Brewster, who will be one of the grant’s co-principal investigator along with Director of Academic Affairs Initiatives Edna Chavarry (Associate Dean of Student Equity & STEM Programs Dr. Melanie Bocanegra is the principal investigator). “A major focus of our work will be on ensuring that new faculty are exposed to evidence-based, equity-minded teaching practices while also facilitating the adoption of such practices inside and outside of the classroom. While our focus is on STEM, this work will serve as a template that all disciplines can adopt.”

The “real winners,” stated Brewster, are “our students, who will be able to pursue the highest quality education at an institution that is mindful and proactively seeking to close the equity gaps that can impede their success.”

“The vision and hard work that SMC faculty & staff put into this singular approach and grant proposal to help more traditionally underrepresented students succeed in STEM is exemplary,” said Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, SMC Superintendent/President. “This approach—of identifying and adopting effective practices to build the kind of culture that will encourage students to persist and succeed—will go a long way in diversifying the STEM workforce and also help build an even better, more equitable Santa Monica College!”

History of STEM at Santa Monica College:

Santa Monica College’s interdisciplinary efforts to strengthen STEM academic programming, help diversify the STEM pipeline, and prepare traditionally underrepresented students to succeed in STEM began about a decade ago. In 2011, SMC received a $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop the SMC Science & Research Initiative/STEM Scholars Program in collaboration with UCLA. The success of the five-year grant led to a second $6 million grant, received in 2016, which has allowed the college to build institutional capacity to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students transferring to a four-year program to major in a STEM field, or pursue a STEM career.

With these previous federal grants, SMC developed a new engineering program and physics-preparation courses; expanded STEM curriculum (including a new course ‘Principles and Practices of Scientific Research’) to facilitate articulation to four-year STEM programs; and is establishing articulation agreements with four-year engineering programs. Other highlights have included a permanent learning space for the college’s STEM students, and a "Makerspace" with state of the art equipment to improve access to interdisciplinary project based learning for students.

SMC’s STEM program has also focused on extending opportunities for industry-based experiential learning opportunities and internships. In recent years, SMC students have interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars; USC Viterbi School of Engineering; The Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UC Irvine; Caltech; and many more.

Through SMC’s Science and Research Initiative, enrolled students have access to specialized courses; tailored counseling and tutoring; supplemental instruction; and workshops geared towards equipping them for success in STEM careers. From among those who complete the program’s rigorous requirements, a group is selected through a competitive process by UCLA for ten-week paid research internships in the university’s labs through the Undergraduate Research Center.

The Center for Teaching Excellence & Steps Forward in STEM Student Success:

The SMC Center for Teaching Excellence—established with U.S. Department of Education ‘Title V – Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Program’ funding—offers an annual institute for SMC faculty & staff; quarterly seminars for all faculty; department workshops for career-specific improvements in math, English, and more.

Since 2012-2013, when the SMC STEM Science and Research Initiative began its full programming in earnest, the college has served more than 1,200 STEM students, with a large majority from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM. The number of STEM majors increased 41 percent from the fall 2011 semester to fall 2018. Persistence—students returning for subsequent semesters—improved from 68 percent in 2012-2013 to 73 percent in 2017-2018, according to SMC Enrollment Development data.

To learn more about STEM at Santa Monica College, visit smc.edu/STEM and for more on the Center for Teaching Excellence, go to: smc.edu/Center. For more information on the new NSF grant, email Brewster_Ciaran@smc.edu or Chavarry_Edna@smc.edu.

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About the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense..." With an annual budget of $8.1 billion (FY 2019), the NSF is the funding source for approximately 27 percent of the total federal budget for basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing. The NSF Improving Undergraduate Education: Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI Program) focuses on enhancing the quality of undergraduate STEM education at HSIs and seeks to increase the retention and graduation rates of students pursuing associate or baccalaureate degrees in STEM. In addition, the HSI Program seeks to build capacity at HSIs that typically do not receive high levels of NSF grant funding. To read more, visit nsf.gov.

About Santa Monica College

Founded in 1929, Santa Monica College is a California Community College accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). In addition to being California’s leader in transfers to the University of California system, the University of Southern California, and Loyola Marymount University, SMC also offers more than 110 career training degrees and certificates. SMC provides news and cultural enrichment through its NPR radio station KCRW (89.9 FM) and The Broad Stage at the SMC Performing Arts Center as well as lifelong learning through distinctive programs such as its Emeritus Program for older adults.