ASC wins $3.6 million grant to expand access to scientific fields


The U.S. Department of Education awarded Adams State College a $3.6 million grant from the Hispanic Serving Institutions STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Entitled Increasing Student Engagement and Success in STEM, the five-year grant will fund several initiatives to help more Hispanic and low-income students earn a STEM degree, according to Dr. Michael Mumper, Adams State senior vice president for Enrollment Management and Program Development.

"We have identified three strategies to help us increase the annual award of STEM degrees by 50% and to triple STEM degrees awarded to Hispanic students," Mumper said. This year's award totals $869,849; the total grant amount is $3,630,551.

The comprehensive proposal was developed in close consultation with all Adams State science and mathematics faculty. Those instrumental in the successful grant application include Dr. Matt Nehring, Professor of Physics and Chair of the Department of Chemistry, Computer Science and Mathematics; Dr. Benita Brink, Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of the Department of Biology and Earth Sciences; Grant Specialist Tawney Becker; and Lillian Gomez, director of Adams State's Title V program.

"Outreach, academic support, and student engagement are the three areas we will focus on to promote student success in STEM," Gomez said. The project will upgrade Adams State facilities and equipment to better serve students and support the new programming. Specific activities include summer programs, seminars, tutoring, a new STEM tutoring center, curriculum reform, and undergraduate research.

The grant will fund a Project Director, Activity Director, and Project Specialist. Nehring will be the principal investigator for the project and help coordinate program activities with other faculty.

National need for more students in STEM fields

Adams State offers four STEM majors with 16 specializations that currently enroll 285 majors: biology, chemistry, earth sciences, and mathematics.

The STEM grant will help ASC encourage more women and minority students to enter scientific and technical skills. Biology professor Benita Brink demonstrates a lab procedure.

"Adams State is the central STEM resource in the vast, rural region of southern Colorado," Mumper added. "We are positioned to deliver far-reaching - even ground-breaking - services in STEM, especially for Hispanic and low-income students."

According to the Center for Urban Education, Hispanics constituted 19 percent of the college-aged (age 18-24) population in 2006, but received only 8 percent of the bachelor's degrees, 3.5 percent of the master's degrees, and 4.4 percent of the doctorates in STEM fields.

Eighty-one Adams State students - including 15 Hispanics - earned a STEM bachelor's degree between 2007 and 2009, representing 9 percent of the 865 total degrees awarded. At Adams State, the undergraduate student body that is 33 percent Hispanic, and 18 percent (annual average) of STEM graduates are Hispanic, which is comparable to the national average, Becker noted.

Academic support for STEM students

The grant's largest component is construction of a new STEM Tutoring Center on the third floor of Porter Hall, the college's math and sciences building, at a cost of $815,500.

"Our vision is to create an environment that is supportive of STEM students, socially as well as academically, and that offers access to tutoring services and peer and faculty support," Mumper said.

ASC's Porter Hall will house the new STEM Tutoring Center.

The multipurpose tutoring center will encourage STEM students to engage in group study, meet with faculty, work with peer tutors, and collaborate and connect with other STEM students. The center will include a commons area, an open study area with four smaller individual tutoring rooms and one larger group tutoring room, and an undergraduate research lab outfitted with instruments for interdisciplinary STEM research.

"The STEM project will also permit us to replace outdated and worn equipment to support hands-on study and research across the entire STEM curriculum," Brink noted.

The grant will fund upgrades to Adams State's greenhouse and to purchase versatile and expensive instrumentation, such as a modern X-ray diffraction system that costs more than $90,000. Laboratory ovens and furnaces, computers, software, supercomputers for math, microscopes, electronic balances, centrifuges, and a range of equipment for molecular biology will also be purchased and/or upgraded.

Exposing kids to science

By expanding its outreach, the college hopes to cultivate more interest in STEM careers and postsecondary education among area youth.

"With the STEM grant, Adams State will enhance our facilities and programs to give area students a view into the world of science that may otherwise be inaccessible to them, due to financial and geographical reasons," Nehring said. "The central unifying component unique to the ASC proposal is an astronomy and space-based theme. The field of astronomy lends itself perfectly to this objective, because it connects all STEM disciplines and is historically appealing to K-12 students and the general public.""

The STEM grant will provide for $400,000 worth of upgrades to Zacheis Planetarium, a valuable asset in connecting with school children.

Adams State's Zacheis Planetarium will receive a $400,000 upgrade with a state-of-the-art projection system and new seating. New programs on tap include Black Holes, 23 Tales of the Maya Skies, and Field Trip to the Moon, currently shown nationally in major museums. Zacheis Planetarium shows will continue to be shown free of charge, and periodically in Spanish, as well.

In addition, nationally recognized speakers will engage the campus and community in an exploration of the cosmos. Young visitors to the Edward M. Ryan Geological Museum, housed in Porter Hall, will become more engaged through new, museum-quality educational touch-screen systems. During the 2013/14 academic year, a new observatory will be built on the north end of campus at a cost of $120,000 to provide excellent viewing of the night sky.

Beginning in 2012, a summer STEM Academy will be created for 20-30 area high school students entering the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Admission criteria will encourage Hispanic and low-income students. This annual on-campus summer residential program will pique student curiosity and enthusiasm through hands-on learning in the science labs, greenhouse, planetarium and observatory.

"The hope is that by developing a sustained relationship with many of our excellent Valley students, many of them will seek out opportunities and careers in STEM," said Nehring.

HSI grants total $14 million

The HSI STEM grant brings Adams State's total of Title V HSI grants to more than $14.1 million. Adams State was the first college in the state to earn federal HSI designation, which requires a minimum of 25 percent Hispanic enrollment.

"Title V grants have allowed us to raise awareness of diversity issues and needs on campus," said Adam State President David Svaldi. "Title V funding has helped ASC improve resources, facilities, and teaching, and provide new opportunities. The results benefit all students"

The college's first Title V grant, for $1.96 million awarded in 2000, created CELT - ASC's Center for Equity in Learning in Teaching. This faculty development program raises diversity issues and awareness and trains faculty in active learning techniques.

A second, five-year cooperative Title V grant for $3.4 million was awarded in 2005 to Adams State College, Trinidad State and Otero junior colleges to expand educational access for Hispanic students. CELT continued as a cornerstone of that grant.

Last fall, Adams State was awarded a $3.18 million grant from Title V that is further supporting student success. In addition to continued faculty development through CELT, this grant is funding acquisition of new instructional and assistive technology, as well as construction of a Student Success Center on the first floor of the Nielson Library. A third component of the grant designed to help prepare students for college-level studies, the five-week Fast Track program, launched this summer with 20 freshmen.

By Julie Waechter