STEM

Massachusetts has been awarded a grant from Complete College America (CCA) to aid the state’s efforts to increase the number of college students who complete degree and certificate programs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

The grant, announced on Nov. 26 by the U.S. Department of Higher Education, will allow nine Massachusetts public campuses to design academic innovations through CCA’s Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) in STEM Careers Initiative. Mount Wachusett Community College is among the recipients and will develop industry field “pathways” utilizing GPS in the areas of health care, advanced manufacturing/ engineering, and biotechnology and life sciences.

The technical assistance grants awarded to Massachusetts, three other states and the District of Columbia are supported by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Other recipients include Bristol, Bunker Hill, Cape Cod, Greenfield, Middlesex and Quinsigamond community colleges.

“We are pleased to be recognized by CCA for our commitment to growing a highly skilled, high wage workforce,” said President Daniel M. Asquino. “The technical assistance available through this award will augment our ongoing, cutting-edge STEM initiatives and support programs for students seeking careers in this field, and help us create new opportunities for the future.”

The goal of GPS is to help students persist in their studies and then graduate into promising STEM careers. During the two-year period of the grant, Complete College America will provide technical expertise to the schools, to help them develop STEM completion goals and analyze local labor market conditions and workforce needs.

The initiative builds on progress already made through the Vision Project, Massachusetts’ strategic agenda for public higher education, and the Transformation Agenda, a multi-year, $20 million dollar project financed by the U.S. Department of Labor to create new community college training programs in the state aimed at unemployed or underemployed adults.

GPS strategies include the use of academic “maps” to guide students from the start to the finish of their academic program, enabling them stay on track and complete their degrees without wasting time and money on courses that don’t advance their training in a particular STEM field. CCA will also assist campuses in creating integrated technology platforms to help advisors track student progress and performance.  Massachusetts campuses will work collaboratively to design a new associate’s degree in STEM that would give students a solid foundation for transfer into a four-year program, where they could begin STEM coursework at an advanced level of study.

GPS quite literally offers navigational guidance as we move, through the Vision Project, toward our goal of national leadership among state systems of higher education,” said Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland. “The nature of our state’s economy demands that we ramp up the number of graduates who are prepared to take advantage of opportunities in STEM-related industries.”

The grant announcement follows Governor Patrick’s November 13 release of “Expanding the Pipeline for All: Massachusetts’ Plan for Excellence in STEM Education,” a strategic plan that ties economic development to teaching and learning in the STEM fields.

Biotechnology students David Boivin and Michelle Despres and Assistant Dean Donna LaMura demonstrated how to extract DNA from strawberries during the Department of Higher Education’s Go Public! event in Worcester.

Student Trustee Jillian Johnson and biotechnology students David Boivin and Michelle Despres helped showcase Mount Wachusett Community College at the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s Go Public! event on Nov. 12 at North High School in Worcester.

GO PUBLIC! gives Massachusetts high school students a chance to discover the programs and opportunities available at the state’s 29 public college and university campuses. Approximately 400 seniors from North, South, Doherty and Burncoat high schools attended the Worcester event.

Johnson, a dual enrolled student in the Pathways Early College Innovation School who started college early to get a jump start on her goal of becoming an orthodontist, shared stories about college life, academics and leadership and civic engagement opportunities available at MWCC.

“My favorite thing about the Mount is the environment. It’s very supportive and everyone’s behind you. They want to see you succeed,” she said.

In addition to Johnson, students representing UMass Medical School, UMass Lowell, Fitchburg State University and Worcester State University also spoke about their college experiences. Following the presentation, the high school students attended an admissions fair and STEM-related demonstrations.

The DHE collaborated with GEAR UP, the federally funded college access program, to organize several events across the state this fall. GEAR UP Executive Director Robert Dias served as program emcee.

This year’s events focused on STEM majors, certificate programs and internship opportunities. Boivin and Despres joined Donna LaMura, Assistant Dean of the School of Business, Science, Technology and Mathematics, to guide students in a quick experiment on extracting DNA from strawberries. AiCo Abercrombie, Assistant Director of Strategic Enrollment Management, fielded questions and distributed information about MWCC’s academic programs.

Mount Wachusett Community College has received a five-year, $640,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for students in STEM fields. The grant will provide scholarships and support services to 150 full-time students in science, technology, engineering and math programs.

The goal of the scholarship program is to provide a supportive academic environment that will ensure STEM students graduate within two to three years with an associate degree and to promote student transfers to a four-year STEM program after graduating from MWCC. The college will recruit 30 students each year into four STEM majors: biotechnology; computer information systems; pre-engineering and natural resources.

Participating students will become members of the program STEM SET (Students Embracing Talent) and will be eligible for faculty mentoring, professional and peer tutoring and monthly enrichment building activities including field trips, guest speakers and small study groups. Scholarships will be granted based on financial need and academic standing. Recipients have the potential to receive up to $3,300 as they complete their associate degrees.

“This National Science Foundation grant will provide our students with an incredible opportunity to make significant advancement in the STEM fields and correlates with the Commonwealth’s goal of increasing STEM education, jobs and workforce development,” said MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino.

“This major NSF grant will enable our students to join a competitive cohort of future scientists and will also position the college to further advance the state’s STEM initiatives,” said Janice Barney, dean of MWCC’s School of Business, Science, Technology and Math.

Last fall, Governor Deval Patrick and state officials announced MWCC will receive $37.9 million in capital funds for a new science and technology building and renovations at the Gardner campus. The 39,000-square-foot addition will provide upgrades to classrooms and laboratories that support the college’s science and health care programs. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2014 and be completed in fall 2015.

This is the largest NSF grant that MWCC has received to date. Representatives from academic affairs, financial aid, access and transition, admissions, academic support, and student services will work collaboratively as an advisory committee for the grant.

Admissions applications are being accepted this summer for the fall semester. New and current students are eligible for the scholarships.For more information, contact the Admissions Office at 978-630-9110.

 -Stephanie Nebes

Dean Janice Barney and NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman at the Massachusetts STEM Summit.

Janice Barney, dean of MWCC’s School of Business, Science, Technology, and Math, joined more than 1,200 business, government and education leaders at the ninth annual Massachusetts STEM Summit to discuss science, technology, engineering and math programs that will promote STEM education from early childhood to adulthood.

The summit, hosted by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, and the UMass Donahue Institute, provided an opportunity to discuss the statewide STEM plan to prepare state residents with the skills necessary to fulfill jobs required to advance an innovative economy.
 
Massachusetts is frequently cited as a leader in STEM education. In March 2011, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, along with Innovate+Educate, a national non-profit connecting industry and education with states to advance STEM education, recognized the state as the national model for STEM initiatives.
 
During the conference, Dean Barney had the opportunity to meet NASA astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman, an alumna of UMass Amherst.