$1 Million for TRAINS

Feb. 28, 2022 | Peter Chung, assistant professor of physics and astronomy

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded $1 million in support of a collaborative program between Rio Hondo Community College in Whittier, Calif., and USC. The program aims to help community college students at Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) transition to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degree programs at baccalaureate-granting institutions.

Despite the social, economic and innovation benefits of a diverse workforce in STEM fields, graduates in these fields do not reflect the inclusive community needed for America to compete globally. Bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields are awarded to Hispanic students at a dramatically low rate. Community colleges can address this disparity: More than a quarter of all community college students identify as Hispanic.

Our project, Transitions and Research Across Interfaces (TRAINS), will facilitate the transition of students at Rio Hondo (an HSI) into future leaders in STEM fields through an intensive, 15-month classroom and research experience at Rio Hondo and USC. By providing career counseling, laboratory training, and direct mentoring, TRAINS will seek to reverse the loss of interest in STEM fields among community college students.

And with the data acquired, TRAINS will eventually present a strategy that other communities can use, fundamentally redefining the role of community colleges as strategic resources for America’s scientific and engineering workforce.

TRAINS will also develop graduate students and postdocs that can mentor non-traditional students and advance ways to overcome cultural barriers that lead to attrition in STEM fields. Program evaluation specialists at the Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships (CSEP) at the University of California, Santa Barbara and education researchers at High Point University in North Carolina will facilitate these aims through focus groups and tracking surveys (CSEP) and by testing novel strategies and refining best practices to keep non-traditional students interested in STEM fields (High Point).

With more than 200,000 students attending HSI community colleges within 15 miles of USC’s University Park campus, this program could both expand and serve as a model for others.