STEM Scholars Program launching for science majors

In November, Santa Monica College and UCLA received a $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The five-year grant is intended to promote the study of Science, Technology, Math and Engineering, collectively known as the STEM fields, among underrepresented minority students. According to Laurie Penninger, grant writer at SMC, the grant money is being used to launch a Stem Scholars program called the SMC/UCLA Research & Science Initiative. The program will provide better resources and more research opportunities for students interested in the STEM areas of study.

STEM careers are in high demand right now, and according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM employment is projected to keep growing by nearly double the amount of non-STEM employment, between 2008 and 2018.

President Obama addressed the need for STEM education in the State of the Union in January. "Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job,” he said. “At a time when millions of Americans are looking for work, it's inexcusable."

Applications for enrollment in the Research & Science Initiative is open and up to 100 students will be accepted for the fall semester.

Penninger, the interim director of the Science & Research Initiative says, "We asked UCLA, ‘how can we get more students into your labs?’”. UCLA felt that SMC students could use more training.

To better prepare students for the rigors of scientific research, SMC will now provide two new classes; Introduction to Research, and Research Techniques in the three science departments, Earth Science, Life Science and Computer Science.

Life Sciences Chair, Dr. Garen Baghdasarian, says SMC will provide more opportunities for research at the junior college level. “We aren’t waiting for students to complete undergraduate or graduate programs,” he says.

According to Penninger, the money will also be used for outreach, to encourage and educate students who may not have considered a future in science or math. "A lot of people look at STEM as completely unapproachable," she said, adding that the complexity of studies turns away some prospects.

With better lab equipment and more applied learning, that could change, says Penninger, and Dr. Baghdasarian agrees. He takes his biology students out of the classroom and into nature as often as possible. “Having the students see the animals up close is the first step,” Says Baghdasarian.

"Students see that there is math but they're having fun. We're saving the world, working with starfish, finding the cure for the next cancer,”Penninger says. These are very practical activities with practical outcomes.

The idea, says Baghdasarian, is to "provide people with tools and the skill sets to take their interests in whatever direction they want."

Students can apply for the STEM Scholars program though the Counseling department, though June 29, 2012.