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Community College Develops Innovative Programs to Increase Underrepresented Students in STEM Careers and Math Fields

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - January 27, 2017) - Almost everything from cures for deadly diseases to the breakthrough science that could save the environment depends on how well prepared the next generation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workers are.

Using money from two federal agencies, faculty from Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York (BMCC/CUNY) have developed three innovative programs that have helped hundreds of minority and women students overcome a hurdle many STEM majors face during their first two years, college-level math courses. Two of the projects are part of BMCC's Minority, Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP). The other is an investigation into why some students who do well in a classroom setting, perform poorly in online classes.

Each MSEIP project was funded with a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) while the classroom study is being supported by a $759,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

More than $750,000 from NSF to remove barriers to success in online courses for STEM majors

BMCC Mathematics Professor Claire Wladis, Teacher Education Professor Alyse Hachey and Business Management Professor Katherine Conway are leading a research project that seeks to understand why underrepresented students who do well in classroom settings, often perform poorly in online courses. Each professor is a principal investigator (PI) in the three-year project that started in 2015, and is funded by a $759,848 grant from the NSF.

The team is looking at questions such as, what differences exist between online and face-to-face STEM courses that could be impacting student outcomes? Which student characteristics are the strongest predictors of differences in online class performance? In particular, does the online environment impact traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines differently than other students?

"The results of this study will also be useful for faculty designing and teaching online courses and administrators determining policies about student access to online courses. Policymakers who determine how and when to include online courses in programs to increase student success in STEM disciplines can also benefit from our findings," said Hachey.

$750,000 from U.S. DOE to increase number of students doing STEM research

Five BMCC Mathematics Professors; Annie Han (PI), Jean Richard, Alla Morgulis, Margaret Dean and Barbara Lawrence have been working since 2014 in a U.S. DOE-funded project -- "Creating Career Pathways in Mathematics through the Recruitment and Retention of Talented Community College Students" -- to improve the access of underrepresented students to careers in STEM.

Partnering with professors from the New York City College of Technology (City Tech/CUNY) and funded by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. DOE, the BMCC team intends to focus on three aspects of success: improving how math courses are taught, recruiting more women and minority students as math majors, and providing support to students through a faculty-mentored Student Summer Research project.

"The entire concept was designed to begin working closely with students in intermediate algebra. This would allow us to build on a strong foundation and enable students to continue on to calculus or even pursue mathematics as a career," said Han.

For example, professors at BMCC has redesigned and piloted calculus courses that present the content in a more accessible format. Seventy-four percent of the more than 1,100 students who took the courses successfully completed with a passing grade.

$750,000 from U.S. DOE to create STEM infrastructure activities

Mathematics Professor Brett Sims (PI), Computer Information Professors Anna Salvati and Mohammad Azhar, and Science Professors Lalitha Jayant and Mahmoud Ardebili are creating a seamless academic infrastructure for underrepresented students in STEM.

Launched in 2015, the three-year MSEIP-RISE project is funded by a $750,000 grant from the DOE. The project is organized under five areas: STEM recruitment, STEM retention, student research in STEM, developing articulation agreements for student transfer and providing professional development for professors, and capacity building.

The project will create a sustainable infrastructure that will address the needs of underrepresented STEM majors during their first three years of college.

"In short, the project's primary goal is to prepare competent and competitive STEM majors that will be successful in graduating from BMCC and transferring to complete their STEM degrees at their chosen senior colleges and universities," said Sims. "We expect to impact a minimum of 600 students."

Students in the program are provided with one-on-one advisement; math classes specific to the needs of STEM majors; the MSEIP-RISE Learning Academy; the MSEIP-RISE STEM practicum; MSEIP-RISE Peer Tutors and faculty-mentored, paid research and internship opportunities.

About BMCC

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) and enrolls more than 27,000 degree-seeking and 11,000 continuing education students a year, awarding associate degrees in more than 40 fields. BMCC ranks #5 among community colleges nationwide in granting associate degrees to minority students, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Visit: http://www.bmcc.cuny.edu.