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Santa Monica College Selected for Top NASA Grant

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September 3, 2015 -- Santa Monica College was only one of four community colleges nationwide selected for a special NASA grant to expand training for professors in math and science-related fields, officials announced Wednesday.

The Community College Curriculum Improvement grant will provide SMC with up to $250,000 a year for a maximum of three years to provide extra training for professors teaching in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and expand course offerings, college officials said.

The grant is part of NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, officials said.

“We are a perfect fit for this grant,” said SMC Interim President Jeffery Shimizu. He noted that SMC has a history of high minority enrollment and is increasingly focused on bringing more of those students into STEM-related majors.

SMC will use its grant to help provide opportunities for students and faculty to get hands-on experience in the development and operation of an instrument collecting data in space, said SMC Geology professor Cara Thompson, who will serve as principal investigator for the grant.

"We hope to contextualize student learning of important STEM skills as well as expand our course offerings and other activities to provide SMC students with tools required to pursue a NASA-related career,” Thompson said.

“We will achieve this through partnerships with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, UCLA, and the University of Southern California, among others.”

SMC is home to a growing STEM program funded by a five-year $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education awarded in 2011.

The program -- known as the Science and Research Initiative (SRI) -- provides specialized courses, free tutoring and academic support and research opportunities at UCLA by collaborating with its Center for Community College Partnerships and the Undergraduate Research Center, said Grace Smith, SMC’s spokeswoman.

This year, 176 students enrolled in SMC’s STEM science and research initiative, Smith said. Of those, half were Latino or Hispanic and 9 percent were African-American, Smith said. Female and low-income students accounted for approximately half of the total.

Eighteen SMC students were selected by UCLA to work in their labs as paid research interns for 10 weeks, and 50 of them attended a week-long research residency, also at UCLA.

Approximately 82 percent of the STEM students admitted in academic years 2013 and 2014 have “succeeded in STEM Courses at SMC,” Smith said.

A NASA official had high praise for SMC’s proposal, calling it “meritorious.”

NASA “recognizes the particular importance of minority-serving community colleges for the participation of students traditionally underserved and underrepresented in higher education,” said Joeletta Patrick, the project’s manager at NASA.

“They constitute the largest and most dynamic segment of post-secondary education in the U.S.,” Patrick added.

The other three community colleges that also received the special NASA grant were Baltimore City Community College, Napa Valley College, and Queensborough Community College.

For information on activities related to the grant, contact Cara Thompson at 310-434-4877 or For more information on SMC’s STEM-SRI program, visit

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