STEM Grant Helps BBCC Students Align with Workforce Needs

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For Immediate Release
August 2, 2012
Contact: Doug Sly, 509-793-2003
C.W. Forrest’s soap box derby car.

Forrest soap box

You can do the math!

People were impressed when C.W. Forrest brought his Soap Box Derby car to Big Bend Community College last spring.

Forrest had designed and built the car to derby specifications. He selected the materials, using aluminum trash cans for the body. He installed steering and brakes, and made improvements and modifications. He knew exactly how much he spent on materials.

“You should be in engineering.” said a BBCC counselor.”I have trouble with math,” said Forrest, who donated the car to a Student Support Services fundraising auction.

A group of BBCC employees admiring the details of the car told Forrest, “You can do the math!”

“Everything he did with that project fit the definition of an engineer, and he has a passion for it,” said Andre Guzman, BBCC STEM Director.

The college is using a federal grant to set up new opportunities for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math STEM.

“Employers say again and again they want people with a passion for engineering,” Guzman said.

Forrest later met with Guzman and made arrangements to return to BBCC next fall to enroll in pre-engineering courses.

Drawings for STEM construction project.

BBCC STEM staff, from left, Tyler Wallace, Math Instructional Specialist; Andre Guzman, STEM Director; Dr. Jim Hamm, Engineering Curriculum Specialist; and Rafael Villalobos, STEM Support Specialist.

STEM grant helps BBCC students
Align with workforce needs

Big Bend Community College has entered an era of STEM education. The college is moving forward this summer with facilities construction, curriculum design, and advising to enhance opportunities for students in STEM fields, especially engineering.

BBCC received the $4.4 million federal STEM award in 2011. The five-year grant has a goal of preparing more engineering students to transfer to partner universities and succeed with the help of BBCC pre-engineering courses.

Job opportunities in STEM fields have increased in the college’s rural service district due to a growing and diversified industrial sector. Corporations such as Genie, Katana Summit, Takata, REC Silicon, Microsoft, SGL/BMW, Yahoo, Dell, and Intuit have created local demand for STEM professionals.

“It will be exciting to see how the collaboration with employers and universities will impact our students and communities,” said Andre Guzman, BBCC STEM Director.

BBCC received the grant because it is a Hispanic Serving Institution, meaning more than 25 percent of BBCC students are Hispanic. The grant has a goal of improving math performance for Hispanic and low-income students.

“The services are open to all students, anyone interested in a STEM career benefits,” said Guzman.

Establishing transfer agreements with STEM faculty at Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University is part of the project. “I’ve had more students ask me about engineering careers during spring quarter than in the last few years combined,” said Dr. Jim Hamm, STEM engineering curriculum designer. Hamm was BBCC’s long-time physics instructor until taking the new position.

An $800,000 STEM Center construction project at the Math/Science Building will be finished in December. The 8,700-square-foot center will have math labs, tutoring center, digital lab, CAD lab, and spaces for STEM related activities. There will be rooms for industry presentations and for working with four-year partners. The chemistry lab also will be improved.

Washington State will have more than 280,000 STEM jobs by 2018, and 94 percent of them will require postsecondary education and training, according to an analysis by Georgetown University.

“Those jobs represent opportunities for students to improve their standard of living,” Guzman said. “The STEM education will prepare them to be successful in a global economy, and our local economy.”

One piece of the grant calls for the college to work with donors and local industry to raise $260,000 for an endowment in the next five years. The grant matches every donation to create a $520,000 endowment to assist STEM programs in the future.

“Donors double their donation. We don’t want to leave any of the federal matching money on the table,” said Guzman. “The BBCC Foundation has made this one of its goals.”

The biggest barrier to students completing STEM degrees is their inability to cross the “math barrier.” More than 90 percent of new BBCC students require remedial math.

“Math is the bottleneck for students pursuing a STEM career,” said Tyler Wallace, STEM math instruction specialist. Only one in five BBCC students gets through the elementary math sequence in one year.

Using the STEM grant, Wallace has implemented a math instruction model (Emporium) that uses videos, computer software, and checkpoints. Success rates for completing one math class increased 24 percent in trials held spring quarter, he said.

The STEM math lab will have 68 computers where math classes are taught by one faculty and four tutors.

“Think of it like a video game–you beat level 1 to unlock level 2,” said Wallace. “Then amazing things happen when you come to class and do the work.”

STEM staff started promoting the program to students last spring. Some students have already fast-tracked math classes, saving time working toward a degree or certificate.

Two STEM Summer Institutes will be held this summer. Engineers from Genie, Katana Summit and Takata will give presentations and on-site tours. High school students attend August 22-23, and current and prospective students attend August 29 and 30. To register, contact Rafael Villalobos at 509-793-2198 or

“Genie wants the students to see the environment in which their engineers work,” said Guzman. “We keep hearing from employers they are looking for people with a passion for engineering.”