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STEMway

Foothill College Awarded Five-Year STEM Grant by the NSF

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Foothill College a grant for more than $900,000 for its innovative STEMWay Program. Foothill College is one of just 22 two- and four-year colleges from across the nation to receive the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) grant this year. Only 10 percent of the proposals submitted for the competitive grant were approved for NSF funding, according to the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education.

Described as a comprehensive, beyond-the-classroom academic support program, Foothill's STEMWay is designed to increase the graduation rates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics—also called STEM—students at two-year colleges and universities. STEMWay combines four key elements that are consistent with recent research on STEM student success: academic support services that closely parallel STEM courses and pathways; analytical management to enable comprehensive support with limited resources; comprehensive mentoring services for progressive student success within an active learning community; and continual involvement by all STEM faculty members for collaborative improvement.

STEMWay is a testable model of intensive intervention that is based on a theory of student retention proposed by pedagogy theorists Vincent Tinto and Alan Seidman. Foothill College Math Instructors Lori Silverman, Ph.D., and Ion Georgiou, Ph.D., will serve as the principal faculty investigators throughout the duration of the five-year grant. A major goal of the project is share best instructional practices, research and findings from Foothill College with college and university faculty and other STEM professionals at special sessions of national meetings of professional societies.

Over the next 60 months, STEMWay is expected to increase the number of Foothill College graduates who complete associate degrees, as well as prepare more Foothill students to academically succeed when they transfer and pursue advanced STEM-related studies at four-year colleges and universities. Silverman and Georgiou expect the STEMWay student cohort to be better academically prepared to compete for STEM-related careers in Silicon Valley.

Increasing students' STEM literacy and mastery increases their knowledge, skills set and marketability. STEM literacy also has far-reaching benefits for local communities and local economies.

"As more Foothill College graduates receive comprehensive STEM education and are prepared to succeed in higher-level STEM courses advance to the next level of instruction and earn baccalaureate degrees at local universities, or are hired by Silicon Valley employers for high-demand, high-wage STEM-related professional career positions, we will see an immediate benefit to the local community," says Foothill College President Judy C. Miner, Ed.D. "When Drs. Silverman and Georgiou, and other Foothill College instructors share STEMWay best practices with more educators across the country, we will affect the change that everyone from the board room to the classroom to the Oval Office is calling for: Providing U.S. students with the non-optional STEM expertise that they must have to be successful individuals and successful wage-earners in a highly competitive global marketplace that puts a premium on mastery of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at all levels of human development."

STEMWay applies a "scaffolding" model, which includes readiness assessment that improves the placement of students into appropriate courses, identifies knowledge gaps, and provides booster instruction to give students the necessary skills for success in each course. The project's initial target is the graduation of 482 additional students—a 95-percent increase—in a two-year mathematics progression, which has been shown to be foundational for success in all STEM areas. The project will be evaluated through formative analysis of multiple program factors for continual feedback, to be followed by summative evaluation of STEMWay as a full system to promote STEM retention, and dissemination of STEMWay assessment of effective strategies to positively impact national STEM graduates.

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