GCC to Offer Summer 2015 STEM Academy

Thanks to two Massachusetts Department of Higher Education grants, Greenfield Community College is encouraging students to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Last summer, GCC hosted a very successful STEM STARTER Academy for high school students and partnered with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) on the 413-STEM Academy. The STEM STARTER Academy at GCC was geared towards recent high school graduates and rising seniors. Eighteen students from ten area high schools took summer math and science classes at GCC for free, received intensive advising, tutoring, and career support, and participated in special STEM-focused activities. For the 413-STEM Academyat MCLA, three GCC students joined students from Berkshire Community College and Holyoke Community College in an intensive STEM-focused week at MCLA. They attended classes and labs focused on different areas of science, stayed in dorms on campus, and went on science-related field trips.

Along with supporting the STEM STARTER Academy, the grant helped purchase enhanced chemistry laboratory equipment, stereo and compound microscopes, technology for the engineering studio, and horticulture greenhouse equipment. It also funded additional staffing hours for the Math studio and for the development of a new course titled “Cosmic Life Becomes You.” Geared toward those seeking a general science credit and taught by Ted Johnson of GCC’s Engineering faculty, the course explores the Big Bang, evolution, chemistry, cosmology, physics, and biology. It introduces how the basic areas of science are interconnected and how they relate to big picture problems such as the environment and health.

Students who participated in the STEM Starter Academy were from ten high schools in Franklin and Hampshire Counties: Amherst Regional, Four Rivers Charter, Franklin County Technical School, Frontier Regional School, Hopkins Academy, Mohawk Trail Regional School, Greenfield, Pioneer Valley Regional School, Northampton, and one homeschooled student. The students took one of three math classes (Introductory Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, and Pre-Calculus) or one of two science classes (Introductory Biology 1 and Cosmic Life Becomes You) and received college-level credit for the class. The program also included career workshops and college success workshops. Since a significant number of students have a fear of college math, the GCC Math Studio provided additional support for all of the STEM STARTER students. They became more confident in their math skills and recognized that math is possible for everyone.

Amanda Hyde, biology faculty in GCC’s Science Department and Coordinator of the STEM STARTER Academy, said, “The STEM STARTER Academy provided a unique opportunity for students. Many would not have had a college experience without this program. Some of the students were bored in high school and needing a challenge. Others are really bright students who said they couldn’t afford to be in the dual-enrolment program. Now, they have been introduced to college and the STEM field. Several of the students are now taking classes at GCC or are dual-enrolled.”

Jadziah Moonstone, a 17-year-old high school senior who lives in Amherst and is being homeschooled, attended the STEM STARTER Academy. She said, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I took Math 095. I got really solid in my math skills taking that class and studying in the Math Studio. It empowered me and helped me realize that math and science are achievable career paths. I had written off science and math as something I couldn’t do. Now, I can consider math and science fields as a major or a career, and I realize that they’re attainable.”

Complementing the 413-STEM Academy at MCLA, GCC’s share of the 413 STEM Ready grant supported STEM mentoring and activities, a STEM-oriented panel of GCC alumna, and GCC students attending the undergraduate research conference at the University of Massachusetts.

Trish Basford, Co-Chair of GCC’s Science Department and GCC Coordinator for the 413 STEM Ready grant, commented on the experience of GCC students at the Academy and its importance, “The three GCC students who attended the 413-STEM Academy at MCLA are interested in science and/or engineering, but uncertain about their career choice. Most STEM-related careers require bachelor’s degrees or higher level degrees. The Academy encouraged students to think about transferring and how to choose where to transfer. Now, they’re thinking of research science career pathways and how to move from community college to four-year college to graduate school. At GCC, we’re focusing on helping with the transition, learning about what research interests the students and how to find colleges with faculty doing that research.”

One of the students who attended the 413-STEM Academy is Alexandra Marmarinos, a 22-year-old GCC student from Amherst who is finishing a liberal arts associate degree at GCC and plans to transfer to the University of Massachusetts to study biochemistry and molecular biology. She said, “It was a great experience of what it would be like to be in a four-year college as well as to do hands-on science and be exposed to different parts of those fields. It was a captivating week with peers preparing for and working toward similar goals. I’m interested in molecular biology, how the human body works on a microscopic level. I’d like to see how disease works at a molecular level and make a contribution to fighting diseases.”

For information about this Summer’s 2015 STEM STARTER Academy visit http://www.gcc.mass.edu/stemacademy/ or for other STEM education at GCC, contact Mary Ellen Fydenkevez at fydenkevez@gcc.mass.edu or 413-775-1469.  Registration for Summer classes begins April 13, 2015. 

By Mary McClintock, ’82