Las Vegas, N.M. – Highlands University students will have more support to complete bachelor’s degrees in science and technology disciplines and math education, thanks to a $2.9-million U.S. Department of Education grant.
The five-year grant is designed to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students who enter the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM, as well as secondary education math teachers.
Lora Bailey, Highlands University School of Education Dean, authored the grant and is the project director. The grant is called STEMfast (Facilitating Access to quality instruction in STEM and Teaching initiatives) and is funded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Hispanic Serving Institutions STEM Program.
Bailey said the top priority for the grant is to increase student transfer, retention and graduation rates.
“I’m proposing developing a Center for Academic Quality to meet students’ academic, financial and emotional needs,” Bailey said. “For example, the program manager at the center will serve as a liaison to the university’s Financial Aid Office, Registrar’s Office, and Counseling Center for STEMfast participants. We’ll also recommend that students access STEM tutoring services at the university’s successful ARMAS Center.”
ARMAS stands for Achieving in Research, Math and Science.
The Center for Academic Quality will be housed at the Victoria D. Sanchez Teacher Education Center.
Bailey said a dual enrollment component of the grant aims to increase transfer students from community colleges to Highlands.
“We plan to enroll students at Highlands at the same time they are enrolled at schools like Luna Community College and Santa Fe Community College with the goal of providing them with access to the grant services that will help them transfer easily to Highlands to complete STEM-related bachelor’s degrees. Our graduates will be leading the way to diversifying jobs in the high-paying STEM workforce,” Bailey said.
In New Mexico, the demand for STEM graduates is growing, with Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory projecting thousands of job openings in the coming years resulting in part from the baby-boom generation retiring.
“In addition, our Highlands students who graduate with STEM and secondary education math degrees will become role models for children in K-12 schools who will seek similar career paths,” Bailey said.
She said another important focus of the grant is to redesign introductory math courses at Highlands as well as open a math learning lab. Computer science professor Gil Gallegos is the principal investigator, or lead researcher, for the grant and will oversee these initiatives.
“Dr. Gallegos will play a significant role in leading the effort to revise mathematics and math education to boost student achievement. He’s an excellent collaborator and colleague for the grant,” Bailey said.
“We’re targeting Math 120, Intermediate Algebra, and Math 140, College Algebra, because these are the steppingstone math courses for all STEM disciplines,” Gallegos said. “These math courses are traditionally lecture based and we’ll continue that format, but enhance the math learning environment with more active learning, which research shows is more effective with students who have weaker math skills.”
Gallegos said math has its own language, which can be difficult for students to decipher.
“We’ll teach math language first, which allows you to understand the deeper abstract meaning of math and its connection to all STEM disciplines. We want to break down the barrier of math anxiety that many students experience so they can succeed,” Gallegos said.
The grant will also employ PLATO, self-paced developmental math software, for students to use in the new math lab.
“Our model is unique in that we’ll have faculty and graduate students in the math lab to provide problem-solving help as needed when students are doing the self-paced online curriculum,” Gallegos said.
Another component of the grant is to provide additional support to English language learners.
“When students aren’t fluent in English, it’s a barrier to learning all subject matter. These deficiencies have led to a gap in STEM learning for these students,” Bailey said.
She said the U.S. Department of Education grant will also fund the purchase of research-based software, textbooks and other instructional materials found to impact STEM and math education learning.
“In addition, the grant will fund more faculty development at Highlands,” Bailey said.