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The STEM Core Network

The  STEM Core Network is a growing partnership of major scientific/technical employers including NASA and federally funded labs, 20 community colleges, and statewide and national workforce intermediaries focused on expanding the pipeline of students for engineering and computer science careers.

GOAL

Build and support a network of California community colleges and science/engineering employers committed to:

  • Developing a STEM Core curriculum and program designed to increase the number and diversity of students mastering the foundational skills needed for success in today’s economy;
  • Developing continuing employer-driven pathways leading to an A.S degree and STEM careers;
  • Offering students a broad range of internship, on the job training, and employment opportunities

SACwJET

BACKROUND

Today’s STEM economy requires students to build on core foundational skills including math through calculus, computational thinking, and technical English and communication. These core skills are the building block and pre-requisite for a wide variety of STEM opportunities and pathways ranging from an A.S. degree and employment as an engineering or computer technologist to continuing educational pathways leading to B.S. degrees and careers in engineering, computer science, health, science and other high wage, high growth STEM fields.

At the same time, it is clear that a majority—as many as 80%– of students enrolled in California’s 2.4 million student community college system lack these core skills on enrollment, and have shown little success in achieving them in current college programs. By one measure only 1% of students entering community college at a remedial math level achieve calculus proficiency in three years. Barriers including lack of math skills, lack of knowledge of STEM opportunities, lack of role models and peer support, and perhaps most significantly lack of deliberate strategies to bring students to STEM skills thresholds mean most remedial students are effectively shut out of the high wage jobs offered by a growing STEM economy

Recognizing the need to expand the STEM pipeline, create a higher quality STEM workforce, and promote diversity in STEM employment, a consortium of major engineering and science employers—including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, NASA Ames, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory have joined with selected California community colleges: Evergreen, Las Positas, Ohlone, Palomar, Saddleback, San Jose and Santa Ana- as well as the Aspen Institute and Growth Sector, to develop a new approach to STEM education and employment. The strategy replaces the traditional model for community college education—individualized coursework pursued through separate classes— with a first year foundational STEM core designed to enable remedial level students to achieve calculus readiness, computational understanding, and English proficiency. The core restructures the educational model by creating a block scheduled learning community incorporating accelerated and contextualized math, computational thinking, and technical English in a single 20-24 credit first year program that also provides opportunity for paid internships at science and engineering employers. Students completing the core are positioned for continuing technical training pathways leading to an A.S. degree and employment opportunities as STEM engineering and computer technologists and/or continuing education pathways leading to a B.S. degree

This approach has proven effective in the federally funded Orange County Bridge2 Engineering pilot program at Santa Ana and Saddleback colleges where 65% of pilot participants entering the program at the elementary algebra level have reached calculus readiness in one year, while also showing significantly higher than average pass and retention rates. The approach is also replicable and scalable as it largely restructures the delivery of existing state funded classes, rather than creating new programming.

OBJECTIVES

To meet the goal of developing community college pathways that greatly expand education and employment opportunities for students, the STEM network will promote collaboration among partner employers and colleges in curriculum, professional and program development, internship and work-based learning opportunities, and employment. Key objectives include:

1)    Development of a STEM core:

Participating colleges will develop a first year STEM core providing including a math sequence leading from intermediate algebra to calculus readiness, computational thinking and/or programming, and technical English and communication. Specific course requirements will be designed to balance employer needs with maximizing STEM opportunities for students.   Reflecting post-secondary best practices, the core will feature:

  • Accelerated and contextualized learning;
  • Block scheduling;
  • Cohort-based learning communities;
  • Intensive academic and social support;
  • Work-based learning opportunities

Assuming available resources, participating colleges will seek to implement at least one STEM core cohort in 2015-6 academic year, and seek to institutionalize the STEM Core model in subsequent years.  We anticipate serving more than 200 students in 2015-6, 500 in 2016-7, and 1,000 in 2017-8. The network will seek to expand to 15 California community colleges by 2016-7.

2)    A.S. degree pathways

Building on the STEM Core, participating colleges will work with partner employers to create continuing STEM pathways leading to an A.S. degree in areas of regional employment need including engineering technology, bioengineering, and computer technology. 2nd year programming will emphasize employer driven technical and applied skills such as instrumentation, fabrication, rapid prototyping, and programming as well as relevant academic coursework.

Network community colleges will seek to develop regional partnerships with community colleges offering a range of STEM training pathways so students completing the STEM Core at one college will have opportunity to pursue a wide variety of STEM educational opportunities leading to an A.S. degree, employment, and/or continuing education.

3)    Development of a broad range of internship and employment opportunities

Participating employers will work with their network of contractors to offer STEM Core and A.S. degree completers a range of paid work experience opportunities including summer internships, integrated work/academic programming, and employment opportunities for qualified graduates. The STEM Core Network will seek funding to support employers in meeting this objective.

EVALUATION

The UCLA Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) has committed to evaluating the impact of the STEM core at participating colleges (contingent on resources).

RESOURCES

Partners in the STEM Core network are currently seeking funding from relevant federal, state, and foundation sources including the National Science Foundation iUSE grant, the California Career Pathways Trust, and the San Francisco Foundation, as well as currently accessing funding from the US Department of Labor (H1-B skills training grant; Ready to Work grant), California Employment Development Department (Workforce Investment Act) and US Department of Education (Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) grant.

COMMITMENTS

  • Partner employers including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other aerospace employers  will work with colleges to develop STEM Core curriculum and technical training pathways. Assuming available funding, employers will develop integrated internship opportunities for qualified students, and assist in developing a pathway to employment upon degree completion. Partner employers will also seek to develop externship opportunities for network faculty.
  • Partner colleges will develop a pilot STEM Core model incorporating the framework described above. Assuming available and timely funding, partner colleges will support needed professional and curriculum development planning, and implement a pilot block-scheduled cohort in September, 2015. Colleges will also seek to participate in continuing network activities including convenings and joint professional development.
  • Skills for America’s Future (SAF) and Growth Sector (GS)will work to develop, coordinate, and grow the network structure, serving as an intermediary with network partners and outside entities. SAF and GS will identify network funding opportunities, directly seek public and private resources to support the network, and propose growth and sustainability strategies. SAF and GS will also develop an internal network structure and coordinate joint activities including professional development, externships, and conferences.