by Diane VanDyke
Montgomery County Community College President Dr. Karen Stout joined other visionary leaders from business, government and education at the annual U.S. News STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference April 23-25 in Washington D.C. to discuss viable solutions for America’s skills and education gap in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Dr. Stout was selected to serve on the panel, “The Community College, Reinvented,” and discussed effective practices used to engage and motivate students in STEM fields. The panel included Dr. Stout; Dr. Bruce H. Leslie, chancellor of Alamo Colleges, San Antonio, Texas; and Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, Florida. They discussed methods to engage and retain students and how community colleges can implement high-impact practices that many four-year colleges use, including offering clearly defined career pathways with a focus on STEM skills and employability.
“Our country’s economy requires an educated, skilled workforce in the STEM career fields, and as a result, we have strengthened our programs and now provide more opportunities to engage students in these areas through hands-on learning experiences and a variety of partnerships,” Dr. Stout said. “It was an honor to join in this conversation and share how Montgomery County Community College is making a positive impact in the STEM fields.”
MCCC’s STEM programs integrate the key areas of experiential learning, professional development, connections with local businesses and academia, and direct access to defined college and career pathways.
In the Engineering program, for example, the College immerses students in a research and development experience with its QuadForge Undergraduate Research Program in which students, using open-source materials, create and develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with onboard Wi Fi and 4G communications, high-definition video recording, embedded electronics with full weatherization and customized mission computers.
The innovative nature of this project increases students’ motivation and participation. Further, the program allows first-year and sophomore students the opportunity to conduct research for real-life applications. Now in its third year, the program draws interest and investment from the Swiss government, private angel investors and corporate partners.
In the area of professional development, MCCC’s educators continually collaborate to develop their curricula, share resources and best practices and learn how to best support each other and students. The College’s streamlined Calculus program is an example of this ongoing teamwork. Using shared information and student data results, the Math department revamped the program to enable students to fulfill the Calculus requirements in two instead of the typical three semesters, allowing students to progress to upper level math and science courses and complete their degrees sooner.
As an ongoing initiative, the College has been building relationships with other STEM partners to provide more opportunities for students. For example, the College is part of the Northeast Biomanufacturing Center and Collaborative (NBC2) that consists of 22 industry partners from nine states and 14 education partners from 10 states. The shared vision for NBC2 is to be a nationally recognized center of excellence that develops a world-class sustainable biomanufacturing workforce to improve the quality of life.
To accomplish this vision, NBC2 supports the local development and growth of biopharmaceutical manufacturing and related industries that use bio-production methods. Many of the graduates of NBC2 are employed by biopharmaceutical companies, such as Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., Genzyme Corp. and Lonza Group, to name a few. Additionally, NBC2 has received three National Science Foundation grants in recent years to implement outreach programs and create a biomanufacturing textbook.
One of the ways the College provides direct, clear pathways for graduating students is through its new Drexel University partnership. Starting in fall 2014, students who graduate from MCCC with an associate’s degree may enter into fully aligned degree program with Drexel that is taught at MCCC’s Central Campus in Blue Bell. Programs initially include B.S. in Business Administration with Co-Op; B.S. in Computing and Security Technology; B.S. in Electrical Engineering with Co-Op; B.S. M.S. in Engineering Management with Co-Op; Mechanical B.S. in Engineering with Co-Op; and a hybrid B.S.N. program designed for registered nurses.
Dr. Stout discussed these programs and initiatives, among others, during the panel discussion as viable solutions for engaging and retaining STEM-focused students.
U.S. News STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference is a mission-critical event focused on the shortage of science, technology, engineering and math skills in the American workforce. Produced by the U.S. News & World Report, it brings the issue onto the national stage and assembles major corporations, leading educators, top policymakers and education technology companies in order to create the collective impact needed to fill jobs now and advance the future STEM workforce. This year, the conference was held in conjunction with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C.