CSUN Part of Effort to Reimagine How Colleges Meet the Needs of STEM Students

CSUN biology professor MariaElena Zavala, second from right, is helping to reimagine how colleges meet the needs of STEM students. Photo by Lee Choo.

CSUN biology professor MariaElena Zavala, second from right, is helping to reimagine how colleges meet the needs of STEM students. Photo by Lee Choo.

The goal is to strengthen old relationships and forge new ones among educators at Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), developing new strategies for teaching future members of the U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce.

California State University, Northridge is one if three institutions sharing a first-of-its-kind $3 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to create an HSI Resource Hub. The hub is charged with reaching out to colleges and universities across the country to build partnerships that will support STEM education, increase STEM research and education capacity at Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and encourage the implementation of cutting-edge training.

“We are hoping to bring people together to come up with ideas to help faculty at all HSIs better serve their students, and help those students on their paths to becoming valued STEM professionals,” said CSUN biology professor MariaElena Zavala, who is working with colleagues at Dona Ana Community College in New Mexico and New Mexico State University to create the hub.

With New Mexico State University serving as the hub’s center, Zavala and her colleagues are hoping to create an environment where educators feel comfortable enough to reach across the traditional divisions that separate community colleges, comprehensive universities and research institutions to share ideas.

“We are hoping we can have honest conversations with our colleagues at HSIs and ask how we can work together to improve student success at HSIs,” Zavala said. “We talk about working together all the time, but we don’t ever really sit down and have frank discussions about what HSIs need, or need help with, and how we — community colleges, comprehensive and research institutions — can work together to improve student success. This also is the perfect opportunity to share best practices, as well as what didn’t work and what we can learn from those failures.

“The ultimate goal is creating an environment where STEM students can learn, thrive and have the tools to succeed in college, graduate school and their professional lives,” she said. “To do that, we need to break down silos, put aside academic differences, and talk and listen to each other.”

To that end, Zavala said she and her colleagues plan to reach out to all 451 of the country’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions — a designation created the federal government to identify colleges and universities with 25 percent or more total Hispanic full-time undergraduate students — and invite them to take part in a dialogue about the needs of STEM students. If enough institutions agree to participate, clusters of regional colleges and universities may be formed to help facilitate partnerships between institutions.

Workshops and conferences also are planned to encourage the sharing of information about what works, what doesn’t work, and how they can help each other help their students succeed.

“We are hoping to plant seeds, have roots set and nurture it into something that facilitates dialogue and yet is flexible enough to respond to the ever-changing needs of the participating institutions and their students,” Zavala said.

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