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STEM Program Gets 6 Million Dollar Grant

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Santa Monica College student Katherine Gutierrez works on a lab assignment for her Chemistry 12 class at Santa Monica College in Santa Monica. Calif on October 17, 2016. SMC was awarded a five-year grant of nearly $6 million to expand STEM programs. (Yulia Morris)

SMC has been granted nearly $6 million by the U.S. Department of Education to develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs at the school.

There were over two hundred applications from schools across the U.S. for the 2016 Hispanic Servicing Institutions (HSI) STEM & Articulation Program award. SMC was ranked amongst the highest for the most deserving of the grant because the school proposed innovative ideas for classes, activities, and equipment, and all STEM staff were deemed as being extremely dedicated to the students’ success.

The Associate Dean for STEM and Student Equity, Dr. Melanie Bocanegra, will discern how the five-year grant from the federal government will be used. But this isn’t the first time SMC STEM has received a grant.

“We’ve had this grant [totaling $6 million] for the past five years… the SMC STEM program started in 2011… [and] getting another five years is rare,” said STEM Counselor Jose Cue.

 

Santa Monica College students wash their test tubes after their lab on Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif on Monday, October 17, 2016. The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Santa Monica College (SMC) a five-year grant totaling nearly $6 million to expand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs at the college. (Rosangelica Vizcarra)

Vanan Yahnian, Student Services Specialist for STEM and Equity, explained that the STEM program at SMC is regularly updated because “in order to receive funding again, you can’t do the same projects… [if we hadn’t added new ideas], we wouldn’t have been awarded [the grant].”

The SMC STEM program hopes to effectively motivate and prepare the underrepresented minority students to transfer to four-year institutions to pursue STEM majors and careers.

“One of the areas that this new grant will focus on is building up an engineering program [and physics-preparation courses],” said Yahnian. “We want to create a ‘maker-space’ on campus which is a permanent learning space for engineering students… [they] will actually have a 3D printer, circuits, equipment,  everything they need.”

The STEM program also offers many opportunities for internships, which greatly benefits students by providing exceptional hands-on experience in a lab.

“We have a collaboration with UCLA,” said Yahnian. “We send interns to work for ten weeks in a paid [research] internship over the summer… we hear back from [Dr. Tama Hasson, UCLA Director of Undergraduate Research Center,] who says ‘they are producing work just like my grad students.’ [The students] are very well prepared and they don’t expect that from a community college student but they should. The bar should be just as high.”

In the near future, the STEM program hopes to further expand their program by implementing a “transfer-bridge program” with UCLA.

“It’s about bridging that transfer process to make sure that [students] continue to get the [year-round] support they need… at their transfer institution,” said Yahninan. “So that they are not left high and dry -- like we help them get in and then there’s a new atmosphere and they don’t know how to [deal with it]. We want their success to continue in that new environment. They will learn study skills and how to make the most of all resources there.”

 

Santa Monica College student Gustavo Gonzalez, 18, (right) holds up a test tube while Stephanie Delosantos,18,(left) observes the reaction during class on Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif on Monday, October 17, 2016. Delosantos is a freshman at SMC pursuing a major in biology. The U.S. Department of Education has awarded SMC a five-year grant totaling nearly $6 million to expand STEM programs to increase the number of Hispanic, and other low-income community college students interested in transferring to a four-year program or pursuing a career in STEM. (Rosangelica Vizcarra)

Hector Medina, a 20-year-old Computer Science major with a focus in Game Design, is a member of the STEM program at SMC.

“I originally joined STEM because I wanted to find a community of people of my major,” said Medina. “I did find a community and more with STEM. They had us go through ‘STEM week’ over the summer, which was basically a Math and Science boot camp. It really helped me with some math troubles I had and I felt connected with other students for the first time to a point that I formed a ‘Computer Science Squad.’”

Medina explained why he finds the program beneficial.

“STEM offers students a chance to explore a major in that field and with much support,” he said. “For example, the tutoring services [and] help in computer science courses. They don't have that anywhere else. [Also we go] to UCLA to see fellow STEM mates present the research they worked over the summer [and we can intern there]. Lastly, they offer plenty of scholarships and internships like the NSF-STEM scholarship [and] JPL internships offered only to STEM.”

The STEM program aims to help students overcome their doubt in their abilities. Should students not feel capable of achieving their career goals, the program helps them realize they can succeed and obtain their aspirations.

Yahnian said, “We often hear from students things like ‘if it wasn’t for the STEM program and the support I received and the friends I made here, I don’t think I would’ve made it through or stuck with it. I may have changed majors, I may not have applied to the schools I thought of applying to ‘because I never thought I would get into somewhere like that.’”

Feeling extremely grateful for the advice and assistance they received in the STEM program, students often write thank you letters to staff or express appreciation in person.

“Just yesterday a student came up out of nowhere and hugged me,” said Yahnian. “[She said] ‘I got the internship that you helped me apply for.’ We get a lot of that throughout the year. It’s really nice.”

This year, the STEM program accepted more than twice as many students than they did the previous year.

“The numbers always go up,” said Yahnian. “We are hoping with these next five years it will be the same.”

The STEM program office is based in Drescher Hall 302 with a free online application.

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