West Windsor, N.J. -- Students studying in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – have a lot in common. Their curricula are technical, detailed and highly demanding. As Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC's) population of STEM students continues to grow – due in part to generous scholarship opportunities from government, corporate and private sources – the college is responding to ensure that these students thrive.
Piloted last year through the Engineering Department, MCCC’s STEM Learning Community is a new kind of networking group that is drawing upwards of 30 students for its bi-weekly meetings.
According to Associate Professor James Maccariella, Coordinator for Engineering Science, “The Learning Community is designed to build a supportive environment, and provide guidance and encouragement throughout a student's program of study at Mercer.”
This fall, the students have begun gathering for lunchtime sessions that include pizza, a beverage – and lots of important information. Among the topics that will be discussed during the year are preparing proposals, gaining professional licensure, securing summer internships, and creating and distributing resumes to professional organizations. Students will also be encouraged to attend meetings and conferences of professional organizations in the region.
Based on his experience last year, Maccariella says the program is effective in providing mentoring opportunities, engagement and motivation, improved self-confidence, and a sense of community.
Last year’s statistics showed that engineering students who got involved had significant improvement in their grades, were more likely to remain in school, and had better graduation and transfer rates.
Other MCCC faculty members participating in the program are Laura Blinderman (Biology), Richard Porter (Mathematics), and Helen Tanzini (Chemistry).
According to Dr. Eun-Woo Chang, MCCC Vice President for Academic Affairs, the college anticipates continued increased enrollment of highly motivated STEM scholars, thanks to two major scholarship programs. The first, Scholarships in STEM (S-STEM), is a five-year program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will provide 116 full tuition scholarships for students majoring in STEM disciplines. (The inaugural cohort of 10 students began its first semester this fall.) This is Mercer’s first major NSF grant.
A second major scholarship opportunity is available for STEM students interested in the teaching profession. A National Science Foundation-Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Grant has been awarded in partnership with William Paterson University to recruit, prepare and cultivate future STEM teachers for high-need school districts. Qualifying MCCC students will be supported with a customized academic plan that provides the necessary foundation in both education and STEM fields. After earning their MCCC degree, these pre-Noyce Scholars will transfer to William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., to complete their degrees as science educators.
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