Building a Bridge to STEM Degrees for Transfer Students

Students participating in the UA’s ASEMS program visit the Xerocraft Hackerspace in Tucson.

Students participating in the UA’s ASEMS program visit the Xerocraft Hackerspace in Tucson.

(Photo: ASEMS)

A $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help create a stronger path for Pima Community College students who transfer to the University of Arizona to pursue bachelor's degrees in STEM fields.

Over five years, the grant will provide scholarships to 94 eligible students who are pursuing associate degrees at Pima Community College with the intention of transferring and completing Bachelor of Science degrees at the University of Arizona. Both schools are Hispanic-Serving Institutions, recognized for success in enrolling and supporting Hispanic students.

Regina Deil-Amen, professor of educational policy studies and practice in the UA College of Education and principal investigator on the grant, says a key benefit of the grant is that it can help diversify STEM talent pathways in Arizona, where there is a "disproportionate underrepresentation of people from the communities in which these STEM disciplines are supposed to be applied."

"It's important that the people who are doing the research, deciding what's important to invest in and applying their skills are connected to the communities and the populations that they're serving," Deil-Amen says.

Deil-Amen says there is a strong interest in STEM fields at Pima Community College, with more than 2,600 students enrolled in science-related associate degree programs. The grant will support UA students majoring in biological sciences, physical sciences, mathematical sciences, computer and information sciences, geosciences and engineering.

"The demand for STEM workers will only grow over the coming years, and the University of Arizona has positioned itself as a leader in providing students from all backgrounds with opportunities to earn STEM-related degrees," UA President Robert C. Robbins said. "Creating pathways to the UA is a key element of our focus on student success, and increasing access and opportunity for transfer students is central to our strategy. This forward-thinking program positions the UA to be at the forefront of diversifying Arizona's talent pipeline in this crucial area."

In addition to funding scholarships for high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need, the grant will support training for faculty and peer mentors at both institutions, Deil-Amen said.

Faculty mentors and support staff will undergo training next summer, with the first cohort of students beginning next August. The model will involve connecting students with staff and faculty and peer mentors during their last year at PCC to build a community of support as they transition to the UA.

"The focus is on trying to reorient faculty and other administrative staff involved with these students to create a culture of belonging before they even come to the university," Deil-Amen says.

The effort aims to build on the UA Arizona Science, Engineering and Math Scholars Transfer program, which Deil-Amen says has had "quite phenomenal success" on a smaller scale helping low-income, underrepresented and first-generation students. Kimberly Sierra-Cajas, director of that program and the College of Science Office of Undergraduate Research is a co-investigator on the grant along with Kasi Kiehlbaugh, director of the UA Health Sciences Design program. The PCC co-investigators are Emily Halvorson, dean of sciences, and Brian Stewart, dean of education.

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