Students branch out with STEM

Becoming a scientist, a doctor, or a researcher is not an easy task. A student would need to have experience and comprehensive knowledge within multiple fields of study.

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math research initiative, or STEM, at Santa Monica College seeks to give students just that.

According to SMC’s website, STEM is a support program helping underrepresented students complete their studies at SMC, obtain their degrees and enter the workforce.

To participate in the opportunities provided by STEM, students must first register and apply to join the Student Research Initiative, which enrolls about 100 students a semester.

In order to become a part of SRI, students must attend two counseling sessions per semester, STEM workshops, peer mentoring with students from University of California, Los Angeles once a month, and a program orientation.

Melanie Bocanegra, director of STEM initiatives at SMC, said that the program is quite rigorous, but designed to keep students from discouragement, as well as providing them with a nurturing learning community.

“We’re trying to adjust the problem of students who want to be a STEM major and get very discouraged early on because the classes are hard,” said Bocanegra. “We don’t want that to be a deterrent. If you are interested in those areas, you should pursue them, regardless of how difficult they are.”

In 2011, SMC received a $5.8 million department of education STEM grant to fund and implement the program throughout the campus.

“The interesting part of the grant is it’s about bringing the STEM community together,” said Bocanegra. “In education, a lot of these disciplines exist separately. You would take algebra but you wouldn’t necessarily know that the bulk of chemistry involves a great deal of algebra.”

The program follows a cohort model, and brings together students of similar majors.

“Getting our faculty together and talking to one another really helps students,” Bocanegra said. “It gives them a more global picture of what science is.”

Starting this winter, STEM will offer a variety of new features and services to better advertise and integrate the curriculum into the student body.

STEM will introduce Science 10, a brand new interdisciplinary research course, and the first of its kind at SMC. Available to only 24 students as a pilot program this winter, the course will cover material from earth science, life science and physical science.

The class will meet Monday through Thursday with a laboratory on Friday. Bocanegra said she hopes to make the class available and listed within the spring 2014 course catalog.

Science 10 is designed to prepare students for a new internship sponsored by SMC, along with the undergraduate research center at UCLA.

Slated to debut in the summer, the paid internship, the Summer Intensive Transfer Experience, will last 10 weeks, and is exclusively available to SRI students, who will have the option to live on campus.

The program, designed for peer support, also hosts STEM days on the quad where all STEM majors, and their equivalents at UCLA, set up tables and help prospective transfer students visualize where their education and majors will take them after transferring. The next STEM day is scheduled for Nov. 7.

“Ultimately, I think all people need to be informed about science and not fear it,” she said. “Understand that it’s something worthwhile and benefits society. At times you should be wary of it, and you need to know why.”

NewsHenry CrumblishComment