Courtesy of UC Newsroom (www.ucr.edu) — A five-year, $3.93 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow the University of California, Riverside to continue efforts to help Hispanic and low-income community college students on a path towards bachelor’s and advanced degrees in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The grant will be used to continue to support student recruitment and retention activities for Hispanic and low-income students in both the Bourns College of Engineering (BCOE) and the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS), according to Chinya Ravishankar, associate dean of undergraduate education in BCOE and the lead principal investigator on the grant. Richard Cardullo, dean of life sciences in CNAS is co-principal investigator.
“This program is about creating and sustaining a pipeline to get these traditionally underrepresented students into STEM fields,” Cardullo said. “This has been part of UCR’s commitment over the years – it is consistent with our diverse student profile and one that we are extremely proud of.”
Ravishankar agreed, saying that between 8,000 and 10,000 students have gone through UCR-based STEM programs since their inception in 2004.
In those seven years the programs provided initial outreach through pre-matriculation and transfer support activities including summer bridge programs, academic advising, and hands-on design projects. For enrolled students, success programs include academic support, mentoring, STEM clubs and paid research opportunities. The new grant will enable these programs to continue as well as provide funds for some new opportunities.
“We propose to use technology to increase the range of our outreach. In the past, our staff has visited community colleges to talk to students and counselors about careers in engineering and science, and about academic preparation for these fields,” Ravishankar said. “We now plan to increase access, creating advising booths where the students can come at times that are convenient to them and meet with our advisors through teleconferencing.”
Riverside City College, Moreno Valley Community College, and Mt. San Jacinto College are the formal partners on the grant, but Ravishankar said the outreach programs are applicable to any two-year college. “Our plan is to make the impact much broader,” he said. “We will reach out to the other community colleges, locally, throughout Southern California and statewide. The programs we develop are applicable to any community college.”
He emphasized that the goal of the program is to increase student interest, participation, and success in the STEM fields, and to help students to go on to earn degrees from the institution that best serve their needs, not just UCR.
“They meet with our students and staff, and experience the excitement of STEM by understanding UCR’s own STEM programs. But our goal is to get more students in the STEM areas, period,” he said. “If they go to UCLA, Cal Poly, Cal State San Bernardino, we will have succeeded, as long as they are in STEM.”
Ravishankar said that the STEM outreach program is a critical aspect of increasing the number of graduates in these areas of national importance.
“Engineering and science will be the primary drivers of social and economic change in the 21st century, so strength in these areas is critical to our future. Industry cannot function without a technically competent workforce,” Ravishankar said.