Business leaders, educators, economists, and elected officials all agree that California’s economy needs more well-trained engineers and computer scientists. The number one reason California’s students aren’t able to earn these in-demand degrees is the math requirement. With support from the California Career Pathways Trust, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, and local Workforce Development Boards, Growth Sector’s STEM Core cohorts are helping unrepresented minorities, women, and veterans navigate the path from the community college to the fields of engineering and computer science.
Engineering and computer science require calculus as a threshold pre-requisite. Yet, 80% of CA community college students enter at much lower math levels, requiring two to three years of math classes before they can even begin a four year degree sequence. The result is that many California students are effectively prevented from pursuing these high wage, high growth careers .
“The benefit of Growth Sector is we’re producing a whole new crop of STEM majors. Groups of students, both because of their math level and because of the demographics, were from groups that normally wouldn’t have aimed so high. It’s great to see this.“
– Dennis Piontkowski, Chair of Math Dept. at CCSF
Traditionally, students take one isolated math course per semester, have no link between their coursework and the engineering profession, struggle to register for the class they need, all without individual support. This entire process takes most students 2-2.5 years to go from Algebra to Calculus.
In stark contrast, Growth Sector’s STEM Core cohorts take a unique approach to helping its program participants be successful in an accelerated pathway. To start, engineering and math faculty work together to co-design the math curriculum in order to provide valuable contextualization to the engineering field. Students also receive math-intensive training, course-specific individual math tutoring, individual counseling and hands-on engineering workshops to help them be successful in class. Students in the cohort also compete for paid internships at NASA and other industry partners. By taking two math classes per semester, participants are able to complete the pathway from Algebra to Calculus in 9 to 12 months.
After eight years of program implementation at a number of community colleges across the country, students in Growth Sector’s STEM Core programs have passed their math classes at a substantially higher rate than their peers. 64% of students who start Growth Sector’s STEM Core cohorts go from Intermediate Algebra to Calculus in one academic year. This is remarkable when compared to the California statewide average of 4%. This is remarkable, especially considering that these students were also taking a double-load of math courses and introductory engineering/computer science courses at the time.
Here is a video highlighting the STEM Core Initiative at 9 Silicon Valley-area colleges as part of the Silicon Valley Engineering Technology Pathways grant.