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Santa Monica College Gets Millions in Federal Aid for Science Education  

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By Lookout Staff

October 11, 2011 -- A select cadre of minority students at Santa Monica College (SMC) are going to receive extra help from the federal government to pursue careers in the sciences, giving them a leg up while boosting the nation's competitive edge.

A $5.8 million five-year Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Grant has been awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to SMC and UCLA to recruit, educate and support students who belong to groups historically underrepresented in those fields.

“Santa Monica College has an excellent transfer rate to such institutions as UCLA, and our science faculty is top-notch, but we’ve never had a concerted effort to move underrepresented minority students through our college into four-year institutions in the sciences,” said SMC Director of Grants Laurie McQuay-Peninger.

“This grant will provide a golden opportunity to get these students excited about the sciences and math and into high-paying and prestigious careers,” McQuay-Peninger said.

SMC's STEM Scholars Program will single out 100 promising students each year to receive special attention. Focusing on a core cohort like this has been shown to greatly increase the students' chances of success, said McQuay-Peninger.

Only 18 per cent of baccalaureates in the sciences go to Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans and women and the groups represent only 28 per cent of those currently working in science and engineering.

To help increase those numbers, the STEM Scholars Program plans to attract recruits by letting them know about the jobs available to science graduates and the real-life relevance of the work they could be doing.

Once in the program, the they'll receive counseling and take part in special lecture series and workshops. The students will be introduced to formal research principles and practices, and get to participate in lab and field research at SMC and UCLA.

Their professors will get special training in effective teaching practices to reach traditionally underrepresented minority students.

Summer programs will be funded at UCLA through the Center for Community College Partnerships and the undergraduate UCLA Research Center.

President Barack Obama said improving STEM education was one of his administration's most important goals when he launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign two years ago.

“Reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century,” Obama said. “That’s why I am committed to making the improvement of STEM education over the next decade a national priority.”

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