Hawaii college will study native plants

Hoping to interest Native Hawaiians in science and technology, Kapi’olani Community College has launched Project Olonā, a program to study island plants.

(From left) Keolani Noa, outreach and Native Hawaiian coordinator of the STEM Program at KCC; Stacy Clayton, director of extension education services at Kamehameha Schools; and Andrew Chang, a second-year KCC STEM student and peer mentor for the program.

(From left) Keolani Noa, outreach and Native Hawaiian coordinator of the STEM Program at KCC; Stacy Clayton, director of extension education services at Kamehameha Schools; and Andrew Chang, a second-year KCC STEM student and peer mentor for the program.

Twelve Native Hawaiian students will compare plant growth rates using traditional soil and hydroponic systems. They’ll also research the active ingredients of Hawaiian medicinal plants and study their potential healing properties.

“Project Olonā will help students enhance their knowledge about Hawaiian culture and science and help them link traditional Hawaiian practices to contemporary science,” said Keolani Noa, outreach and Native Hawaiian coordinator of the STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math) at the college.

Students will have the opportunity to work alongside experts in ethnobotany and chemistry.

Kamehameha Schools is giving the community college $50,000 to fund the program.

Students like STEM, but don’t succeed

Nearly half of  students say they’re interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields — including health care — when they start college, but few will earn a STEM degree, according to a Complete College America report.

Forty-eight percent of recent ACT takers express interest in a STEM major, reports ACT. Forty-one percent of new four-year students and 45 percent of two-year students choose a STEM major, including health sciences, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. Four-year students favor health science, biological science and engineering, while two-year students are interested in health sciences and computer science.

Most don’t make it.

Among 4-year students, 57% of students who choose health sciences and 59% who choose computer science never complete a credential in that field.  The problem is more profound at 2-year colleges where 58% of health science and 72% of computer science students leave the program without a credential.

Those who stick with STEM complete college-level math in their first year, the report finds. Quitters don’t. They also complete few science courses.

Complete College America proposes scheduling college-level math and a majority of STEM courses in the first year to keep students on track. That will help only if students are prepared to pass college math, which many are not.

Community colleges are filled with young women who “think they’re going to be nurses” but won’t be, a researcher once told me. They don’t have the math or science foundation.

First-generation college students often focus on nursing because they’re not aware of their alternatives, writes Matt Reed, a community college dean. A colleague told him her job is to “talk students out of nursing.”

Adults: Math is most valuable subject

Math is the most valuable school subject in later life, say Americans in a new Gallup poll. English, literature, or reading came in second, but lost a few points since 2002. Science/physics/biology increased from 4 percent to 12 percent, passing history for third place.

Trend: Thinking about all the subjects you studied in school, which one, if any, has been the most valuable to you in your life? [OPEN-ENDED]

The importance of English rises with higher levels of formal education, tying math as the most important among four-year college graduates and coming in first among postgraduates.

CCRC: Core completers raise odds of bachelor’s

Tracking students’ progress through the core curriculum can help community colleges improve success rates for students who hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, suggests a new Community College Research Center report.

About 70 percent of community colleges say they want to transfer to earn a four-year degree. Most never make it.

Researchers analyzed data from community colleges in two states with different transfer policies.

State A  requires a 42-credit general education core curriculum. All core courses are transferable, but transfers aren’t guaranteed junior status, even if they’ve earned an associate degree. In State B, a 36-credit core is required and statewide articulation agreements guarantee junior standing for transfer students who’ve earned an associate degree.

Over five years, 29 percent of students at College B completed the 36-unit core;  only 12 percent completed the 42-unit core at College A.

After five years, students who completed the core were much more likely to complete a degree compared to those who completed most of the requirements  (30-41 credits at College A and 30-35 credits at College B).

For example, while only 8 percent of students who accumulated 30-41 credits at College A earned an award at their community college and/or at the four-year college to which they transferred, 54 percent of students who completed the core did so. The corresponding results for College B are 17 percent (for those who accumulated 30-35 credits) and 70 percent (for those who completed the core).

Encouraging near-completers to earn an associate degree before transferring would boost success rates, the study advises.

Students were most likely to meet social sciences requirements and struggled the most to earn math and science credits.

Protecting Pell leads ACCT priorities

Maintaining Pell Grants and restoring Pell eligibility for “ability to benefit” (no high school diploma or GED) students seeking job training lead the Association of Community College Trustees’ top legislative priorities for 2013, the National Legislative Summit decided.

To help students train for skilled jobs, the ACCT called for preserving the Community College and Career Training Grant Program (TAACCCT),  the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act.

Investments in direct institutional aid to colleges that serve disproportionate numbers of minority, low-income and first-generation college students are  critical. Congress should continue its support for the Strengthening Institutions, Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, and Predominately Black Institutions (PBIs) programs.

ACCT also endorsed the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, which supports science, engineering and math programs at community colleges. “Programs are developed in conjunction with businesses in nanotechnology, alternative energy, advanced manufacturing, and many other critical fields.”

Community colleges help train teachers

Community colleges are helping train a new generation of K-12 teachers, reports Community College Week.

Samuel Simpson, 54, a high school math teacher at All City High School in inner-city Rochester, is one of the first fellows of the Community Center for Teaching Excellence (CCTE), which is based at Monroe Community College (New York). “My efforts in doing the kinds of best practices that many people in the education field talk about doing — looking at data, using it to inform instruction, and teaching differently and smarter — have brought significant results,” Simpson said.

Community college educators, university professors, high school teachers and the Center for Governmental Research are collaborating on “high-impact teaching strategies” through CCTE, reports Community College Week.

 A number of fellows incorporated collaborative learning techniques in their classes, such as peer teaching, paired writing and group note-taking, to increase student engagement. A few teachers experimented with integrating 21st-century technology tools into their lessons, such as creating digital versions of their notes with embedded audio and having students contribute to blogs.

MCC Assistant Professor Maria Brandt and a colleague are working with a teacher at Rush-Henrietta Senior High School to create common writing assignments and assessments.

 Focused on improving students’ abilities to read critically and communicate coherently and accurately, they had students write summaries of selected authors’ work and evaluate their own writing at the beginning and middle of the fall semester.

“Through the course of the semester, students in my English 101 class have improved in two areas: their ability to summarize a text and their sense of the importance of reading closely, that you cannot formulate an accurate and responsible argument without understanding the texts involved,” Brandt said. “The students are much more aware now that they need to listen first or read well to grow as readers and writers.”

“Our goal is to better understand the gap between how high school students are performing on average and how first-year college students are performing on average and help them have higher success levels,” Brandt said.

Many schools need science, technology and math teachers.  Community College Week looks at STEM programs at Cerritos College (California) and Rio Salado (Arizona), which belong to the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP).

Ten Maryland community colleges now offer a fully transferrable associate of arts in teaching degree in secondary math, writes Colleen Eisenbeiser, director of the TEACH Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. Nine offer secondary chemistry and eight offer physics.

Two Maryland community colleges partner with their local school systems “to recruit, prepare, place, and instruct career changers in hard to fill secondary content areas, including math, chemistry, physics, and technical education.” Anne Arundel has helped a variety of career changers become certified teachers, including a computer software engineer, a health information analyst lawyer, a nurse, researchers from a lab that studies the habits of migratory birds and the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and a biologist who worked at the National Aquarium and National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Skills gap is small, but growing

The “skills gap” is no big deal now — but it could be in the future, if we don’t take steps to train new workers, writes Harold Sirkin, a Boston Consulting Group partner, in Businessweek.

The shortage of skilled welders, machinists, and industrial machinery mechanics represents less than 1 percent of U.S. manufacturing workers, Sirkin estimates.  Only seven states and five cities — Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Miami, San Antonio, and Wichita — have significant shortages.

However, that could change in the next 10 years as manufacturing grows and baby boomers retire. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the U.S. is 56 years old, according to government data.

Technical and community colleges are working with employers to train workers in some parts of the country,  Sirkin writes.

In Georgia, for example, a program called Quick Start provides companies with customized workforce training and retraining, free of charge, in partnership with the state’s technical colleges.

Here in Chicago, the Austin Polytechnical Academy teaches students all aspects of industry and has its own manufacturing training center.

“Most high-skill manufacturing jobs require only a high school education and on-the-job training,” yet few companies recruit in high schools, Sirkin writes. And manufacturing doesn’t appeal to young people seeking bachelor’s degrees, even though half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.

The question we need to ask bright young people today is this: Would they be better off with a college degree in mass communication, “poli sci,” or sociology that gets them a job as a retail clerk or waiting tables, or would they be better off with a real skill that qualifies them for a high-paying manufacturing job?

After years of high unemployment and rising college costs, students are wising up about borrowing for a degree in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.” But advanced manufacturing — and other technical careers — may not be open to students with weak math and science skills.

In new economy, welding is a STEM job

Welding is a STEM job, says Traci Tapani, CEO of a Minnesota sheet-metal company that’s  training its workers, rather than relying on local community colleges, writes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Wyoming Machine works on armoring Humvees.

“Many years ago, people learned to weld in a high school shop class or in a family business or farm, and they came up through the ranks and capped out at a certain skill level. They did not know the science behind welding,” so could not meet the new standards of the U.S. military and aerospace industry.

“They could make beautiful welds,” she said, “but they did not understand metallurgy, modern cleaning and brushing techniques” and how different metals and gases, pressures and temperatures had to be combined.

Moreover, in small manufacturing businesses like hers, explained Tapani, “unlike a Chinese firm that does high-volume, low-tech jobs, we do a lot of low-volume, high-tech jobs, and each one has its own design drawings. So a welder has to be able to read and understand five different design drawings in a single day.”

Unable to find qualified applicants, Wyoming Machine hired a trainer. But it was hard to find trainees with sufficient math and science skills, says Tapani.

“I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication company where math is not important. If you work in a manufacturing facility, you use math every day; you need to compute angles and understand what happens to a piece of metal when it’s bent to a certain angle.”

Many community colleges and universities can’t keep up with employers’ needs, Friedman writes.

Miami Dade College makes workforce training a priority, collaborating with more than 100 companies, says Eduardo Padrón, the president.  “Every program that we offer has an industry advisory committee that helps us with curriculum, mentorship, internships and scholarships.”

Immigrants used to take an unskilled job and work their way into the middle class, Padrón says. “That is no longer possible.”  Education is a necessity, not a “luxury for the few.”

From community college to a STEM bachelor’s

Universities are turning to community colleges in the search for potential STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students who are black, Hispanic or female, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Using a $2.6 million Gates Foundation grant, the University of Maryland Baltimore County will pilot a national model for increasing the number of community college students who go on to earn bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. The City Colleges of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago wil use a Kresge Foundation grant to help minority males transfer and earn STEM bachelor’s degrees. Mount Holyoke College is helping female community college students earn a STEM bachelor’s, with a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Transfer students in STEM fields face the same problems any community college transfer might face: courses that don’t line up, credits that don’t transfer, trouble adjusting to the class size or format, a lack of a community feeling. Those problems, however, are often more acute for STEM students. After all, 500-person lecture classes are more common in science departments, and requirements are often more stringent in those fields, too; an engineering student who takes the wrong class in his first year at community college will likely have a harder time finishing a bachelor of science degree in four years than an English student would have with a bachelor of arts.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke, interviewed 30 Massachusetts community college students in STEM fields before and after they transferred to a four-year institution. Twenty-six transferred and 22 persisted in STEM majors after the first semester.

Most of the students reported positive feelings about their community college experiences, citing inspiring professors, peer support, and helpful advising as reasons for their success. Once the students got to their four-year colleges, however, sentiment turned negative. Most students reported struggling in at least one course, and said that compared to their community college courses, the four-year classes often moved at a faster pace, were more difficult, and provided less support. The content in the courses didn’t always line up, either. One student said she had taken the first semester of organic chemistry at her community college, but the second semester course at her four-year college assumed knowledge of things she hadn’t learned, so even though she had earned credit for the first semester of organic chemistry, she ended up having to take it over again.

Mount Holyoke’s STEM transfer initiative provides scholarships, advising and mentoring to help transfers complete a STEM degree. Students meet with science faculty members regularly and go through a special orientation.

Adaptive technology can be ‘cool’

Jon VanDoran uses crutches, a wheelchair — or the motorcycle he adapted — to get around.  A student at  Volunteer State Community College (Vol State) in Tennessee, the former machinist plans to earn a mechanical engineering degree and create  “adaptive technology” to help others with disabilities, reports Community College Times.

Before enrolling at Vol State, VanDoran built a motorcycle he can use without his legs.

“I found an old ’92 Harley Fatboy. I met up with a guy who works on motorcycles, and we figured out what I needed to do to modify it for me. The biggest trick was the shifting, but I never found a good answer to that problem. I started doing research to do it better. I put it all together and made my own design. I machined all the pieces myself. It’s a jockey shift set-up with the clutch on the handle of the shifter.”

A sidecar, painted with the jaws of a shark, holds the Harley upright.

After the motorcycle project, his wife urged him to live up to his potential. VanDoran decided to start at Vol State, then transfer to Tennessee Tech for his engineering degree.

“I want to go into children’s outdoor sports. That stems from me growing up as a child with a disability and there not being many options for me. Going hiking, rock climbing and repelling was tricky. I was always involved in the outdoors, but it was really hard.”

. . . “Kids want something that is cool. I want to develop pieces that kids would be proud to have.”

Although he “grew up hating math,” he became comfortable with numbers in machinist school, VanDoran said. “Once I decided to become an engineer, I knew I had to learn to love math. Now I’m a complete math nerd, and I love it. The math and science program here has been great in helping me with that.”