Gavilan College Awarded Third STEM Grantby Jan Janes on Nov 4, 2016
As the current Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) grant reached its final year, and while faculty and administrators waited to hear the fate of its newest grant submission, Gavilan College received a site visit from evaluators.
At the end of the visit, staff heard their decision: approval of Gavilan's third STEM grant totaling more than $4.7 million across five years.
HSI STEM grants, funded by the United States Department of Education, became more competitive as the number of qualifying Hispanic serving institutions grew from 100 to 415. Of the 254 applications recently submitted, 91 were funded.
Gavilan College was one of only five grant applicants in the country with a perfect score of 100.
Students installed a native garden adjacent to the Gavilan College
Life Sciences building to serve as an outdoor classroom.
"I think an important factor influencing the evaluators during the site visit was the enormous amount of student involvement," said Rey Morales, biology instructor and lead faculty with the STEM program for eight years. He cited the summer internship opportunities and Gavilan's unique learning venues available to students, as well as the supplemental instruction and service learning activities made possible by the first two STEM grants.
The official name: "Strengthening Hispanic STEM Students: Comprehensive Support, Guided Pathways, Renewed Learning."
On campus, they call it STEM III
The new grant will enable Gavilan to create a STEM Center within the Math and Science Quad. Plans are still in flux about where activities will move and change. Lab upgrades were a major component for STEM II. The Math Tutoring Lab, always filled to capacity, may move to a larger space, freeing that area to be designated the new STEM Center.
Another key component of the new grant is expanded STEM counseling and community involvement. A full time counselor dedicated to STEM will meet a few times each semester with students. The connection between counseling staff and faculty will be strengthened so students could meet with both, offering better insights about career opportunities.
Marla Dresch, Gavilan math instructor and the new Activity Director for STEM III, outlined opportunities for outreach. "There will be outreach to area high school students, to high school faculty, and especially to high school counselors, informing them of STEM opportunities at Gavilan," she said. There will also be outreach to families about STEM education and career options available.
"The annual community outreach program, Science Alive, is held in February each year," said Dresch. The program invites middle school students onto campus to participate in hands-on math, science and computer workshops. Because the college Student Center is undergoing seismic retrofit repairs, the program may be postponed or cancelled in 2017.
STEM III teaching and learning opportunities abound
With the new grant, summer enrichment programs will expand. Summer Bridge, an existing program which offered academic boot camps as a transition between high school and college, will continue and add more classes during intersession. A new bridge program, STEM Transition, will offer math and science summer classes between the first and second college years.
Another new program, Guided Pathways, will plot a clear academic roadmap as STEM students begin their studies. Students learn how the classes build upon one another and when they'll be ready to transfer. The pathways approach also allows students to set up contingency plans if changes occur in their schedules.
Established transfer agreements with San José State University are shared with students so they know the correct classes to take and what GPAs are expected.
The pathways approach encourages students to enroll in accelerated classes which combine classes that typically span two semesters into one class, doubling the units and emphasizing learning immersion. "As students put a whole lot of effort into their math, it creates synergy and students get good at it," said Dresch.
Instructors take note of students who master math principles, recruit them to become paid math tutors and offer them tutor training. "This encouragement leads the tutors to accelerate their own knowledge, then go on to schools like UCLA and Berkeley and enter a STEM profession," said Dresch.
STEM summer intern Andrea Alvarez consults a handheld wifi
weather station to record temperature, humidity and wind flow after
mounting bird houses on campus.
STEM III will enable the college to purchase equipment benefiting student research efforts. "Supplies such as a wireless weather station help students understand effects of weather on plants and animals, and portable wifi microscopes to quickly assess water quality," according to Morales. Computer tablets share live data and enhance interactive learning. Camping equipment allows students to participate in service learning programs off campus at state and national parks and local ecological reserves.
STEM summer internship program flourishes
Summer interns benefit from field and lab research under guidance from science mentors throughout the Bay Area. They apply in the spring, get paid over the summer, often launching careers in their chosen STEM fields. Participation leads to improved motivation, dedication to studies and a realization they can do the work.
Neighboring universities, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and STEM related businesses have all worked with Gavilan College to offer internships. Field research teaches students collaborative, practical skills unavailable in a traditional classroom setting.
"The unique attributes at Gavilan – field activities, outdoor classrooms, the pond overlook, native garden and the meadow restoration – add a creative approach to the way we teach our students," noted Morales.