Local News

Friday, Sep 30 2011 07:23 PM

CSUB captures another STEM grant

BY JORGE BARRIENTOS Californian staff writer jbarrientos@bakersfield.com

Cal State Bakersfield is continuing its grant receiving streak, this time winning one for $734,000 to strengthen education programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday.

Only 12 colleges and universities nationwide received the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program grants, a total of $2.9 million for this school year. CSUB was awarded $244,537 as part of the three-year grant.

The money is intended to increase the number of ethnic minorities, particularly women, studying in STEM fields. The program is part of the federal department's goal of improving STEM education to increase America's technological and scientific competitiveness.

The grant is also a boost for CSUB's new engineering program in computer engineering.

Specifically, the grant money will be used at CSUB to help engineering students overcome the hurdle that is calculus, said Charles Lam, a math instructor who wrote part of the grant.

Traditionally throughout the nation, half of engineering students drop out of programs because of struggles with calculus, he said.

CSUB will offer tailored calculus classes for students, who will get longer class and lab times, tutor help and new technology to help them overcome the hurdle.

"They will appreciate why calculus is needed in engineering," Lam said.

Another part of the grant involves building a new high school robotics program to get students excited about science early on, said Linwei Niu, CSUB assistant professor of computer science.

Local high school students will go to CSUB's campus to learn about robotics with college students and faculty. At the end of the training, high school students will compete in the FIRST Robotics high school contest that draws tens of thousands of science students nationally.

Before launching the high school portion, CSUB students will train and compete in a campuswide robotics competition.

This latest grant only adds to Kern County schools' efforts to produce more scientists. On Monday, the federal department announced that Bakersfield College, CSUB and Taft College received a combined $4.1 million -- and potentially $20.7 million over five years -- for similar STEM efforts.

That grant 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.

September has been a good month for CSUB as national and federal groups have given CSUB nearly $11.5 million in grants over several years for science instruction.

CSUB officials have said they have aggressively been pursuing grants and private funding in part to deal with the uncertain budget outlook.

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