Thursday, November 17, 2011

College sees growth in STEM program participation

“Life is all about collecting keys,” said Kantis Simmons. “There are many doors to opportunity. Your goals should be to collect the keys that will open them.”

Simmons, a leading motivational and academic success strategist, was a keynote speaker during a symposium this month dedicated to highlighting Daytona State’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Community Scholars program. STEM is a five-year National Science Foundation grant-funded initiative geared toward recruiting students, particularly under-represented, first-generation college students, into STEM-related college majors.

Motivational speaker Kantis Simmons inspires students at a
recent STEM Scholars symposium.

Now in the second year of the grant, Daytona State has seen a surge in STEM-related academic program enrollment, just as state and federal government leaders have called for more emphasis on STEM education from K-12 through the college level.

“Our objective is to help students find the right path, earn their two-year, STEM-focused degree and go on to earn a STEM-related four-year degree,” said Karen Peterson, the college’s STEM Community Scholars coordinator. “We try to demystify the STEM-related fields to show students how they can be applied to our everyday lives.”

Daytona State offers both associate of arts and associate of science programs that qualify as STEM majors, including biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, physics and more. Many lead to careers which, according to a recent Georgetown University study, have the lowest rates of unemployment in today’s job market.

In the past year, the STEM Community Scholars ranks have nearly doubled in size to 580 students this fall semester. Once in the program, students are immersed in a continual and intrusive academic environment that includes personal attention and advising, peer mentoring and coaching, and developing strong social ties with classmates through academic opportunities and extracurricular activities similar to this month’s on-campus symposium which featured Simmons, various employability and study skills workshops and a showcase of local STEM businesses such as Raydon Corp., Teledyne Technologies, Hudson Technologies, Tara Technologies and a host of other members of the Volusia Manufacturers Association.

While there is no typical STEM student, Peterson said all share some common traits, including the ability to earn a four-year degree and the drive to do the work necessary to earn one. While STEM Community Scholars receive a small stipend, they must agree to attend classes regularly, complete their assignments and maintain a 2.75 grade point average.

“When we get them in during the first semester, we discuss the bachelor’s degree program and institution each student is ultimately interested in attending, and we reverse engineer their Daytona State College program of study so they have the classes required to improve the likelihood of being admitted to their chosen program,” she said. Transfer institutions Peterson most works with include Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and each of Florida’s public universities. STEM students also are eligible to transfer into Daytona State’s three Bachelor of Science in Engineering Technology degree concentrations.

As America’s students lag in math and science when compared to peers around the world, President Barack Obama has made improving STEM education one of his priorities, pledging to increase funding to support such programs. The administration has identified three overarching priorities for STEM education, including increasing the ability of students to think critically in science, math, engineering and technology; improving the quality of math and science teaching; and expanding STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott also has signaled increased funding for higher education programs focused on the STEM disciplines in the coming legislative session.

Find out more about Daytona State’s STEM Community Scholars program on the Web.