Local News

Monday, Sep 26 2011 06:14 PM

Millions awarded to grow more local scientists

BY jorge barrientos Californian staff writer jbarrientos@bakersfield.com

Kern County's ongoing efforts to produce more scientists out of students got another big boost Monday when the U.S. Department of Education awarded our colleges millions for just that.

Bakersfield College, Cal State Bakersfield and Taft College received a combined $4.1 million -- and potentially $20.7 million over five years -- as part of a "Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM" federal grant program to enhance science, technology, engineering and math studies at the schools that enroll a high percentage of Hispanic students.

The money will benefit all student populations, not just Hispanics, but is aimed at increasing the Hispanic student college-going rate.

Grants will be used to revamp decades-old science laboratories at BC, create a second engineering degree at CSUB and increase transfers of Taft College students to universities, among other things.

"This is an incredible opportunity for our region," said Dan O'Conner, dean at BC.

Bakersfield College was awarded $1.2 million, CSUB nabbed $870,000 and Taft College received two grants for $870,000 and $1.2 million. The grants are renewable for up to five years.

The grant money is intended for such things as faculty development, curriculum development, academic tutoring and mentoring.

At BC, officials said they hope to use the money to improve its science programs and create a foundation to keep them strong for years to come. They will upgrade technology and labs on campus, adding simulation and virtual reality tools, and begin a model that will provide more transfer opportunities into CSUB.

The money will also be used to pay mentors and tutors to assist science students.

"If we had to rely on the budget we currently have, we just couldn't do all this," O'Conner said.

Last year, CSUB and Taft College received similar grants for $3.7 million and $3 million, respectively. With that money, CSUB created its first four-year engineering degree in computer engineering. Taft used it to develop a feeder program with area high schools to align math and English curriculum with college-level coursework, and to get more tutors and mentors.

Taft College officials would not go into specifics Monday on how it plans to use the new funds except to say it would build upon last year's grant. The college is planning to hold a press conference in mid-October to announce specifics.

And the only detail CSUB officials could provide was that the grant would fund a second engineering degree program, tentatively known as "engineering sciences."

Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, which serves Kern County students, also received millions -- potentially $10.3 million over five years.

Hispanic-serving institutions have at least 25 percent full-time Hispanic undergraduates enrolled.

This is just the latest in a series of major grants to local colleges and CSUB aimed at producing more scientists. This month alone, CSUB was awarded nearly $7 million in national grants for science instruction.

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