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South Florida State College has been awarded a nearly $5 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to launch a postsecondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) project called “Re-Engineering Our Future.” This project will create educational opportunities for Hispanic and low-income students in the college’s service district of Highlands, Hardee, and DeSoto counties.
“SFSC is thrilled and honored to have been awarded this grant,” said Dr. Thomas C. Leitzel, SFSC president. “It is imperative to the economic health of our service district that we prepare our students for an increasingly high-tech world. A STEM education is critical as new and emerging jobs require expertise in these disciplines. This grant has given us the means to strengthen our efforts in providing workforce skills that are essential in attracting advanced manufacturing industries to locate in the tri-county region.”
For this project, the college will focus on four major activities. They are to develop a high-tech degree pathway with transfer into the University of South Florida and Florida Polytechnic University, to improve pre-collegiate services to better prepare low-income Hispanic students for these programs, to improve college academic support and students services to better support low-income Hispanic college students, and to create a more culturally sensitive campus culture to increase student engagement and success at the college.
Funds from the grant will allow SFSC to create new degree programs in engineering technology, mechatronics, and biomedical science. Mechatronics is a combination of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer control, and information technology that come together in the design of “smart” products, such as robots or sensor-driven windshield wipers. These high-tech degree pathways will make it easier for students to transfer directly into the biomedical science degree program at the University of South Florida and one of several engineering programs at Florida Polytechnic University. In fact, SFSC will be the first college to set up such an articulation agreement with Florida Polytechnic University.
SFSC’s engineering technology, mechatronics, and biomedical science programs are scheduled to begin in August 2017.
Through the grant, $1 million’s worth of new, state-of-the-art technology will support these programs as well as enhance the lab sciences courses at the Hardee and DeSoto campuses. Included will be a series of mechatronics and engineering-specific lab equipment. The biomedical science program will make use of a negative 80 degrees freezer, phase contrast microscope, fluorescent microscope, illuminometer, and nuclear magnetic resonant spectrometer.
The college will send two instructors to Berlin, Germany, for Level One and Level Two Siemens mechatronics training and certification. Siemens is known for offering the gold standard of training in the field of mechatronics.
“This grant will enhance academic and support services for students seeking STEM degrees,” said Dr. Timothy Wise, dean of Student Services, and project director for the STEM grant. “It will provide resources to hire specialists who will provide support who can assist students, such as academic advisors, recruiters, tutors, coaches. Because SFSC is considered a Hispanic-serving institution, the grant will allow us to reach out to students and their families.” In fact, SFSC’s student population is 30.6 percent Hispanic.
Resources will expand SFSC’s campus-based services and support for Hispanic students. For instance, the college will produce Spanish language versions of key student services materials focused on graduation and transfer. The college will create a more culturally-sensitive institutional environment through employee professional development sessions.
Because mathematics serves as a firm foundation in preparing students for STEM majors, a summer program called MathSteps will be available to recent high school graduates, first-year-in-college students, and dually enrolled students. It will prepare students for college-level mathematics and all the way through pre-calculus, if needed.
Other student support will be expanded tutoring opportunities for the college’s Hardee and Highlands campuses. Students will be able to participate in a residential program developed in conjunction with Florida Gulf Coast University so SFSC students can learn more about what engineering students do. So families of students can learn more about the first year of college, SFSC will create a Spanish language version of its new student orientation and develop an orientation specifically for parents of potential students.
SFSC will employ an early alert program so instructors, coaches, or support personnel can better identify students who are running into academic or personal stumbling blocks. Through the program, they can give students encouragement and help them get back on track.
Students who have graduated from SFSC and encounter the challenges of transition to a university will be able to rely upon Inside Track coaching for support. This nationally recognized, distance-based coaching service assists students in navigating through the academic experience. For example, Inside Track coaching can guide them through the financial aid process, course mapping, or tutoring.
To sustain the momentum of the “Re-Engineering Our Future” project, SFSC will kick start a $250,000 endowment to go hand in hand with the SFSC Foundation’s Partnership Project. Donations to the endowment would be matched one-to-one and used to support ongoing programs and student scholarships for Hispanic and low-income students.
“The ‘Re-Engineering Our Future’ project is a perfect example of how education and economic development can work together,” Dr. Leitzel said.