Thanks to a NASA grant awarded to the Virginia Space Grant Consortium, students of Rappahannock and other Virginia Community College System (VCCS) member institutions who are pursuing studies in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) fields have gained access to new scholarships, research experiences, internships, and courses. The Consortium’s newly announced program, “STEM Takes Flight at Virginia’s Community Colleges,” offers all of these as a means of encouraging community college students in STEM fields to persevere with their studies through graduation with an associate degree or transfer to a four-year institution. Professional development opportunities for faculty members are also available.
Among the components of the “STEM Takes Flight” program is the Community College Bridge Scholar award — helping students “cross the bridge” to their next steps in higher education or employment — which will provide $5000 plus mentoring services to each of 15 students during the Spring 2015 semester and the entire academic year of 2015-16. Current freshmen can apply for this award now; applications are due by November 17.
Through the “Build/Fly/Learn” component, selected students will form teams to work at hands-on paid summer research projects at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Similar projects for individual students will also be offered, both at Langley Center and at the Wallops Flight Facility of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. A total of 38 community college sophomores or rising sophomores will be invited to participate in this research experience, under the guidance of NASA mentors.
Ten students will receive grant-sponsored internships through the Consortium’s Commonwealth STEM Industry Internship Program; the additional sponsored funding will increase the number of community college students who can be placed in this already-established program. Its purpose is to enhance the value of community college students in the eyes of employers, and thus to make it easier for them to obtain jobs and keep them.
Of the several new courses to be offered, two are designed to engage students in mission development and planning. Students will develop and fly a sounding rocket payload as part of the “RockSat-C” program at the Wallops Flight Facility in the summer of 2016. A third VCCS-wide course will allow faculty-led student teams to investigate the issue of sea level rise and its impact on coastal communities and ecosystems. This course, though largely online, will also come to NASA Wallops, using geospatial technology and historical data to project the effect of rising waters on the facility.
Community college faculty will benefit from the “STEM Takes Flight” program through a residential professional development workshop in STEM disciplines at Wallops Flight Facility in early June of 2015. Twenty faculty participants will experience a hands-on case study that will help them teach their students about the importance of teamwork, technical skills, and problem solving in STEM disciplines.
“STEM Takes Flight” has the firm backing of Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. “The initiative includes an excellent collection of STEM programs,” he notes. “The goals align with those of my administration to support STEM education and workforce training for Virginia students.”
From VCCS Chancellor Glenn Dubois comes the statement, “Providing paid real-world work and research experiences for students; scholarship support; and faculty professional development that can bring the excitement of NASA missions and interdisciplinary teamwork into the classroom are worthwhile and impactful opportunities which I heartily support.”
For detailed information on all “STEM Takes Flight” components, as well as links to applications, please visit the program website at www.vsgc.odu.edu/stemtakesflight.