The STEM Connection
A federal grant nearing $1 million will be used to help dozens of local high school and college students to careers in math and science.
Miami Dade College’s North Campus and St. Thomas University received the grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish STEM Connections, a project that will lead minority students to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM fields as they are called.
Over the course of the next three years, the institutions will work together to create a tutoring and mentoring network, as well as a summer research institute for college and high school students, to address what researchers see as an increasing opportunity gap in the number of minority students pursuing degrees in the STEM disciplines.
“This grant will provide North Campus with the opportunity to provide additional academic support to minority students in attaining success in the sciences,” North Campus President Dr. José A. Vicente said.
North Campus is in the midst of a science renaissance of sorts. The campus will soon complete the construction of the state-of-the-art Science Complex (see related story on page 46), and in recent years established and revitalized key science programs to increase access and success of minority students, particularly women. As a result, North Campus has received numerous grants from external sources – including a number of federal awards – to amplify its curriculum in the sciences.
These are indeed “exciting times,” said Dr. Heather Belmont, the chair of the biology, health and wellness department at North Campus. “We’ve committed ourselves to promoting STEM education at North Campus,” she said. “In addition to expanding existing programs, we’ve introduced cutting-edge concentrations in areas like biotechnology and forensic science so that our students are prepared to advance at the upper-division or in the workplace.”
The number of African-American males pursuing degrees in engineering has been on a steady decline in the last decade, according to a report from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. That report also showed a growing gap in education attainment for Hispanics.
Academics believe part of the problem is the lack of diversity among faculty members at the college and university levels. Minority and female students don’t have as many role models and mentors to support or encourage them to pursue careers in engineering and mathematics.
Beginning with an initial $279,881 for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, STEM Connections will receive a total of $857,909 over a three-year period. The program will establish a network that will encourage students toward careers in the sciences and give them the kind of support that will lead to academic and career success.
The first step will be identifying 100 ninth- through 12th-graders and testing their level of proficiency. These students will be given access to online tutorials and the use of a newly equipped tutoring lab at North Campus. Additionally, MDC is establishing a peer-to-peer tutoring system so students will get help from college-age students who are already excelling and on their way to degrees.
The third component of the program is the newly established Summer Research Institute at St. Thomas. MDC and St. Thomas students who earn C’s or better and who have declared themselves STEM majors will be able to attend the eight-week, highly intensive program at St. Thomas University.
The summer program will include field trips, a speaker series and a final research project, which will be presented at a major university event.
— Gariot P. Louima