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BBCC creates new 'STEM culture'


The STEM Center at BBCC is "vibrant" but not quiet, educators there say. - BBCC photo

A new "STEM culture" has emerged at Big Bend Community College as a result of a federal grant now in its fifth and final year, the college says.

The college has recorded a 200-percent increase in student use of the STEM Center this year. With glass walls and abundant natural light, the center provides 62 hours per week of tutoring and supplemental instruction. Demand is so great, the center is open on Sundays.

The $4.4 million U.S. Dept. of Education Title III Grant for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) helped the college provide new resources for students enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

College-level math courses were redesigned, new advising strategies were implemented, and pre-engineering pathways were developed to change the way students feel about STEM. Changes in the ways students access academic support have had a huge impact, according to college officials.

The college has greatly exceeded the goal of the grant to get more Hispanic students enrolled in STEM programs. Enrolled Hispanic students' numbers swelled from 24 in 2008-09 to 473 this year, according to college officials.

Distance (online) STEM enrollment increased from 150 FTEs in 2008-09 to 428 FTEs in 2014-15, again greatly exceeding the grant's target.

Study groups are common in the STEM Center, where tutors roam, helping students. They are not quiet. This is not the library. "It is a healthy, vibrant learning environment," said Math Instructional Specialist Sarah Adams. "Students are encouraged to be engaged."

The college used the grant to implement the pre-college math model known as Emporium, which has received widespread recognition for greatly increasing BBCC student success in completing developmental math courses.

The computer software-based Emporium model helped increase student success rates in developmental math from a little less than 50 percent to nearly 80 percent. The lab has computers for 62 students, with up to seven sections offered per quarter.

"Math is a gatekeeper for so many professions," said STEM Grant Director James Sauceda. "If a student can't pass college-level math, they can't be a nurse, an accountant, a computer technician, or an engineer."

It is common for BBCC students in the Emporium lab to pass two developmental math classes (10 credits) in one academic quarter while paying for one five-credit class – helping students save time and money. As more students pass developmental math, more students enroll in college-level math classes.

BBCC has partnered with the engineering teams of local industries like Genie, REC, and SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers to better inform students of local STEM opportunities and occupations.

"There are many more STEM jobs in the local economy that have come with industrial diversification," Sauceda said. "Our students can become engineers and get a job near their home town."

This fall, enrollment in engineering physics at BBCC is at an all-time high. The college had waiting lists for calculus classes for the first time in its history in the fall of 2014, so more calculus sections were added.

Sections of pre-calculus I increased from three to 11, sections of pre-calculus II increased from one to five, and sections of statistics classes increased from four to 12.

Other STEM Center services include educational planning, assistance in applying for scholarships, mentoring, and guidance for transferring to a university.

BBCC is eligible to receive Title V grants for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) because of the demographics and income levels in its service district population. HSI grants have goals and strategies for helping more Hispanic students complete college degrees. The support services and benefits derived from HSI grants are available to all students and residents of BBCC's service district.

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