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Chaparral 2011-2012: GCC Awarded Two Title V STEM Grants

GCC Awarded Two Title V STEM Grants

GCC Awarded Two Title V STEM Grants
by Cathy Durham, Michael Ritterbrown, and Tom Voden

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced awards to Glendale College of two Title V Carl Friedrich GaussSTEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) grants, effective October 1, 2011. Over five years, the college will receive approximately $10.3 million to implement proposed projects.

GCC qualifies for Title V grants because it is a Hispanic-serving institution. Title V legislation was enacted in 1998 to “expand educational opportunities for, and improve the academic attainment of Hispanic students; and expand and enhance the academic offerings, program quality, and institutional stability of colleges and universities that are educating the majority of Hispanic college students and helping large numbers of Hispanic students and… low-income individuals complete postsecondary education.”  Title V STEM grants, a subset of Title V grants, have three additional objectives: to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students earning degrees and achieving careers in STEM fields, to enable more data-based decision making in projects designed to improve postsecondary student outcomes, and to develop model transfer and articulation agreements between community colleges and university partners in STEM.

The first new grant, the Gateway Project (officially “Opening the Gateway to STEM Degrees for Hispanic and Other Underprepared Students”) is a “solo” grant, awarded for institutional development within a single institution. The Gateway Project is designed to serve Glendale College’s basic skills students by developing a comprehensive and holistic program for basic skills instruction and services. Up to this point, excellent programs and projects serving basic skills students have been developed, but they have operated largely independently of one another. Research has shown that, in the main, those who need these services most are least likely to find them on their own. The solution is to link curriculum, ancillary instruction, and services directly in a clear and comprehensive program.

Why develop a basic skills program under a STEM grant? What do basic skills have to do with STEM? The reality is that STEM majors and careers are possible only for those basic skills students who successfully complete their developmental coursework. Thus, the Gateway Project’s overarching goal is to facilitate students’ efficient progress from developmental courses to transferable courses, from community college to university, and ultimately to degree completion. The five-year, $4.2-million Gateway Project will be led by Michael Ritterbrown and Cathy Durham.

The second grant application was titled, “Building a More Responsive STEM Success Environment at Glendale Community College for Underserved Hispanic and Low-Income Students,” but the project is being referred to locally as the GAUSS Grant. The name is an acronym for GCC’s Articulation with Universities for STEM Success, and also a tribute to the great 19th Century mathematician and scientist Carl Friedrich Gauss. The GAUSS Grant is a “co-op,” in which the recipient institution is expected to collaborate with one or more partner institutions, such as universities and high schools, to achieve shared objectives in STEM education. Leaders of the five-year, $6-million GAUSS Grant are Tom Voden and Cathy Durham.

The GAUSS Grant consists of three major projects. The first focuses on project-based engineering instruction in the context of robotics. It will develop an authentic, interdisciplinary, hands-on learning experience in which students design and execute robotics projects. Robotics is a powerful student attractor and provides a rich supply of interesting questions which elicit true interdisciplinary exploration. In collaboration with various discipline experts, GCC faculty will leverage these characteristics to design an engaging, project-based curriculum. There are many opportunities along these lines at universities, but very few at community colleges. This innovation will serve as a positive distinguishing force on our campus and draw students to STEM fields.

The second broad project of the GAUSS Grant is to construct a platform for STEM course redesign and professional development with an emphasis on contextualized learning through a system of pairing courses from various STEM disciplines. Faculty will work in pairs to align the curriculum in their courses to construct a complementary treatment of their respective content. The two courses will be offered in such a way that a single group of students will register for both, creating a cohort effect. This sort of system will help students make inter-disciplinary connections which often go unnoticed, but serve to promote deeper learning of core concepts.

The third major project is to strengthen existing university partnerships and increase collaboration with universities on the topic of articulation in STEM. The articulation component of this grant functions in a crucial way to guide students to pathways toward STEM degree completion, and creates new pathways where need exists. In many ways it will act as a sort of glue adding cohesion between the various existing and developing student support mechanisms.

A few individuals came together to develop the Gateway and GAUSS grant proposals, but the task of preparing increasing numbers of students for careers in STEM will require the efforts of many. Most students enter GCC in need of additional preparation in basic skills, in need of information about fields of study and career possibilities, in need of relevant, engaging curriculum, in need of support as they tackle new learning challenges, and in need of guidance toward clear pathways to transfer and degrees. We hope the new grants will energize us, faculty and staff, with their call to build on existing strengths, establish new connections, and develop fresh approaches to furthering student learning and success.

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