Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Boot camp for students studying STEM being held at Cuyamaca College

  Talk about starting off with a bang. 

Lab tech Niall-Conor Garcia poses as a victim as
Professor Laurie LeBlanc points to evidence
A STEM Summer Boot Camp introducing a group of Cuyamaca College students to the dedication required in studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics got under way July 24 with a classic whodunit – the discovery of a “victim” felled by a bullet and a directive to work as a team in collecting blood samples, analyzing DNA and engaging in an abundance of research over the following three weeks to solve the faux crime.

       Call it CSI Cuyamaca College. Seventeen students are taking part in the boot camp, which runs through Aug. 11 and involves extensive lab work combined with a crash course in technical reading and writing.  

   The boot camp is the first chapter of a five-year, federally-funded effort aimed at boosting the number of Cuyamaca College science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates who transfer to a California State University or University of California campus. “The goal is simple,” Chemistry Professor Laurie LeBlanc said of the three-week exercise. “We want to give these students the tools that will help ensure they transfer as soon as possible and as successfully as possible. We want them to go on to become superstars in the STEM field.” 

       Cuyamaca College is receiving nearly $1.2 million annually through the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM and Articulation Program, a program assisting Hispanic Serving Institutions. Hispanic Serving Institutions are colleges or universities where Latinos comprise at least 25 percent of the school’s full-time equivalent students and that have adopted strategies to help low-income and Hispanic students. Nearly one in three students at Cuyamaca College is Latino, almost half of whom are low income and first-generation college students. 

       Consuelo Torres is among them. The El Cajon Valley High graduate is an incoming freshman at Cuyamaca College, where she will major in biology and take the first steps toward her dream of becoming a pediatrician. “I’m enjoying this,” she said. “I like working with the other students. But it’s not just a boot camp. We’re also interacting with the instructors and the counselors and getting a lot of guidance on what classes to take and how to stay on track.” 

       The boot camp began on a quiet Monday morning with Cuyamaca College Biology Professor Kathryn Nette providing an overview of the curriculum and discussing techniques for success in rigorous STEM coursework. Just minutes into the introductions, a lab assistant burst through a door in a panic, urging Nette to follow her into a nearby storage room. Nette, students in tow, walked followed the lab assistant to find the body of a man suffering what appeared to be a fatal gunshot wound. A bullet casing lay on the concrete floor. Blood was spattered on the wall.  

       Students acknowledged they knew immediately that the crime was a cover up for an engaging lesson plan. They soon found that over the following three weeks, they will take the lessons they learn to engage in DNA, fingerprint and blood spatter analysis in an attempt at detailing how the victim met his fate. The boot camp will conclude with poster-style presentations displaying scientific-based reasoning and conclusions. 

       “It’s a different way of engaging our students,” said LeBlanc.  

       Besides the boot camp, the Hispanic Serving Institutions grant will fund a student coaching program to help ensure the STEM majors succeed in their studies; create a partnership with the California State University system and UC San Diego to develop several associate degrees for transfer in STEM subjects; and provide faculty training to adopt effective teaching practices that address low academic performance. 

       The STEM award was one of two significant Hispanic Serving Institutions grants Cuyamaca College secured within the past year. Cuyamaca College last August was awarded a nearly $2.6-million, five-year grant to expand educational opportunities and improve academic achievement among all Hispanic and low-income students. That grant will fund a new program dubbed The Pathway Academy aimed at minimizing the times students spend in remedial classes, expanding student support services, and providing additional professional development for faculty and staff.