Highlands Receives Grant to Help Increase Hispanic Graduates in Sciences

New Mexico Highlands University received a $1.6-million U.S. Department of Education grant to increase the number of Hispanic students who complete their bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math.  According to the National Academy of Science, Hispanic students are significantly underrepresented in these disciplines.  At Highlands, undergraduate students entering the disciplines of math, computer science, forestry, biology, geology and chemistry will be targeted to receive additional support services through the new grant.  Highlands applied for and will administer the 2-year grant, which will be a joint project with Luna Community College.  The grant name is “Bridging Careers for Success.”  The project director for the grant is Edward Martinez, Natural Resources Management department head and professor at Highlands.

“Through this grant, we will forge a cooperative agreement to develop a seamless transfer of science, technology, engineering and math students from Luna Community College to Highlands,” Martinez said.  “Faculty involvement from both institutions is important in creating alignment to make sure the related courses at both schools have the same content, instructional methodology, and rigor.  Also, both Highlands and Luna will create physical centers located on both campuses to support the students and help them succeed and graduate.”

The grant includes funding for each school to hire a center coordinator, an academic coach, part-time tutors, and one administrative support staff member.

At Highlands, the grant will fund the work needed to create a center located in the Lora Magnum Shields Science Annex in the southwest corner of the second floor.  Martinez said centers at both schools will provide a variety of services for students and resources for faculty.  He added that Highlands will coordinate with existing student tutoring and advisory staff to help science, math and engineering students successfully complete their bachelor’s degree.

“One of the benefits of this grant is it will further strengthen the partnership between Highlands and Luna,” said Linda LaGrange, associate vice president for academic affairs at Highlands. “This partnership is already well established by the close collaboration between the LCC and NMHU nursing programs.”

Martinez said that universities across the country are beginning to use this new model to increase retention of science, technology, engineering and math students and improve graduation rates.  He said that while he was at Highlands University studying environmental science, geology professor Bob Lessard, who is now retired, mentored Martinez and was instrumental in him continuing his higher education in science.

“Dr. Lessard was the one who made me see I could compete with all students and pushed me to go to graduate school and even helped me apply for the New Mexico Doctoral Scholarship Program,” Martinez said. “One professor taking an interest in a student can make a tremendous difference in their success, especially in the sciences.”

Martinez is an experienced grant administrator for Highlands.  He is also administrating a USDA Hispanic Serving Institution Education Grant that offers a Science and Agriculture Summer Experience program to high school students in northern New Mexico.  In addition, Martinez administers a National Science Foundation grant Highlands’ received to create a water quality monitoring lab.