East Campus receives federal STEM grant

Dale Villeburn Old Coyote/Aztec Press Program manager Guadalupe Waitherwerch plans new ways to teach STEM students

By DALE VILLEBURN OLD COYOTE

Pima Community College East Campus has received a $3.1 million federal grant to supplement the science, technology, engineering and math programs offered to students.

The campus qualified for the STEM grant because it is a Hispanic-Serving Institute, meaning that 25 percent of enrolled students are of Hispanic descent.

The U.S. Department of Education grant seeks to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students attaining degrees in STEM fields. Another goal is to develop model transfer and articulation agreements between other institutions.

The rate of degree completion in STEM fields is generally poor and worse for students of Hispanic or African-American descent, according to the Universal Journal of Educational Research.

Guadalupe Waitherwerch, the East Campus HSI-STEM program manager, said corporations need applicants who are better prepared.

“They are hiring people who look stellar on paper, but have no people skills and are not able to work on projects,” she said.

Job openings will be available. Data compiled by Pew Research Center indicates approximately 10,000 baby boomers have retired every day since 2011, leaving a void in the workforce.

Waitherwerch believes traditional college courses don’t provide students with the experience necessary to replace those who are leaving.

She hopes a new style of instruction will better prepare graduates to tackle real-world issues when they enter the workforce.

The first step is faculty redevelopment. Instructors will work together to develop integrated classes that help students understand where two subjects coincide in practical application.

The new class format encourages students to teach themselves while being supervised by an experienced guide. The instructor’s role will be to facilitate the application of knowledge rather than lecturing students.

To address the low completion rate of students in STEM programs, PCC will offer individual support for those enrolled in the redesigned classes.

The support will take the form of tutoring, student workshops, career and financial advisement, and helping students take advantage of community resources.

Plans to renovate the campus with up-to-date technology and infrastructure are also underway.

PCC’s renovation plan includes three phases. Each aspect is designed to provide low-income students with 21st-century resources.

Phases 1 and 2 involve creating modernized workspace for students to study alone or to collaborate in larger groups.

Phase 3 aims to provide a space for learning communities and faculty to cooperate while finding the crossroads of different subjects, such as biology and chemistry.

“We don’t have the structure here set up so that students can actually come together in groups, whether in classrooms or even in the library,” Waitherwerch said.

The grant funding will allow East Campus to purchase more smart-boards and to begin renting out laptops to students who may not have access to an off-campus computer or Wi-Fi.

Pima will receive the grant money in installments over the next five years. The college has committed to matching the grant funding and expects to use $3.1 million of its own money over the five-year span to support STEM programs.

The federal government monitors the funding to ensure it is being used efficiently and according to the college’s plan.

PCC is required to meet specific goals concerning the completion rate of the target demographic and their performance in the classes.

East Campus will implement the new teaching modalities in courses gradually, starting in the Fall 2017 semester.

An existing East Campus student STEM club is currently recruiting, and hopes to expand to other campuses as membership increases.

Part of the club’s function is to give STEM students “a chance to discuss and explore common ideas in a fun and open environment outside of the classroom,” club adviser Duke Schoonmaker said.
Club members will have opportunities to listen to guest speakers and to participate in field trips, fundraising events and social outings.

To join, email Schoonmaker at dschoonmaker@pima.edu.

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