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STCC Lands $3.4M Grant to Boost Hispanic STEM Graduates

SPRINGFIELD — Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) has been awarded a five-year, $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help Hispanic and low-income students obtain degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). U.S. Rep. Richard Neal announced the funding package during a press conference at STCC.

Called the Hispanic and Low-Income Transformed Education in STEM (HiLITES) Project, the grant will provide services and supports across campus to ensure student success in STEM classes and majors.

“Most jobs in the future will require a basic understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” Neal said. “That is why this federal assistance from the U.S. Department of Education is so important and timely. It will give Hispanic and low-income students an opportunity to learn the necessary skills that can lead to a successful career in the growing STEM industry.”

STCC President John Cook understands this, Neal went on, “and that’s why I congratulate him and his team at STCC for securing this highly competitive grant. Because of their leadership, some of our region’s diverse student population are being given an extraordinary opportunity to receive a STEM-based education and find a good-paying job.”

STCC is the only community college in Massachusetts to receive this award.

“We feel tremendously fortunate to receive this funding from the U.S. Department of Education and are also very grateful for the support offered by Congressman Neal,” Cook said. “STCC is open-eyed about student needs, and this grant helps us address complex challenges. We look forward to building diversity across our unique array of STEM programs, and this is a chance to both expand initiatives, while also trying new and creative approaches.”

Only 11.4% of Hispanic students at STCC –— and 14% of low-income students — major in STEM fields, said Arlene Rodriguez, vice president for Academic Affairs at STCC. She noted that Hispanic and low-income students enter college with greater developmental math needs and have lower rates of retention and graduation. Students who are Hispanic and low-income perform worse on all three measures than students who are only Hispanic or low-income. The grant is designed to help Hispanic and low-income students overcome hurdles on their path to an associate STEM degree and transfer to a baccalaureate program.

“I am pleased that we have been awarded this grant, which aims at providing greater possibilities for a bright future for Latinx and low-income students,” Rodriguez said.

Dr. Adrienne Smith, dean of the School of Engineering Technologies and Mathematics, added that “I am thrilled about the receipt of this grant award, as this funding will provide the college with the necessary resources to increase the numbers of Hispanic and low-income students in STEM, thereby increasing their chances for employment in high-paying STEM careers.”

The project aims to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students in STEM disciplines, increase pass and retention rates by redesigning developmental and gateway STEM coursework, provide student supports throughout degree programs to encourage progression and completion, and provide high-quality professional development for STEM faculty.

Highlights of the project include hands-on STEM demonstrations for local middle- and high-school students; an expansion of the method for assessing math placement for entering students; a redesign of developmental math and entry-level chemistry curricula; the hiring of two STEM advisers to conduct outreach and help transition STEM majors into the college; the creation of a STEM Center as a centralized location for presentations, group study, and tutoring; assessment software to support faculty work; and the funding of numerous professional-development opportunities for faculty.

To be eligible to receive the grant, colleges must have the federal designation of HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institution). An HSI institution must have at least 25% Hispanic students making up the total student population. With a Hispanic student population of 27.6%, STCC has officially been designated a Hispanic Serving Institution since 2013. Additionally, 56% of STCC students receive federal Pell grants, which are limited to students with financial need.

STCC began planning for the grant in September 2015 with the formation of a HSI STEM planning committee.

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