NSF Grant Supports STEM Partnership Between Jackson State and a Mississippi Community College

An innovative collaboration between Jackson State University and a rural community college campus in Mississippi has resulted in a five-year, $1.75 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The institutional transformation grant, announced earlier this month, was awarded to the Utica Campus of Hinds Community College “to develop educational bridges” between the Utica campus and Jackson State. Specifically, its goal is to recruit and prepare students for careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to Dr. Mae Catheryne Jackson, mathematics instructor and grant writer at HCC-Utica.

Jackson and Dr. George Barnes, vice president for administration at Hinds CC-Utica, will direct the program along with other faculty and administrators who have worked several years to develop the project. Jackson said the institution received a $75,000 planning grant in 2007, after an initial proposal for a larger grant was not accepted.

“It took quite a bit of perseverance and establishing relationships so that we could let them (NSF) know that we were really serious,” Jackson said. The improved and enhanced proposal was submitted in March, with the positive news being announced this month.

It is one of the largest NSF grants awarded to a community college in Mississippi, and Hinds CC-Utica was one of just six institutions receiving the grants out of 22 that applied nationwide.

Jackson said the program will target a cohort group of 25 students recruited from area high schools and train faculty in specific teaching strategies designed to keep the students focused and engaged.

“We see the need to move from traditional techniques to a more student-centered approach. Our pedagogical strategies involve process education and active student learning, developing activities that support concepts, as opposed to the lectures approach,” Jackson said.

The program is designed to help the students move seamlessly from community college to the university curriculum. “The majority of our students transfer to Jackson State anyway, but we don’t have very many students who are interested in STEM areas—they don’t feel they are really capable of handling the rigor in those areas,” Jackson said, adding that the goal is to “teach students how to learn, to take on the responsibility of learning and to become lifelong learners.”

From Jackson State’s standpoint, “The goal is to get more community college students to enroll in JSU and to have a bridge program between the community college and JSU, to identify students who have a science and technology interest and capability, and to immerse them in a summer program and an academic-year program,” said Dr. Mark Hardy, dean of JSU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology.

In October 2007, the National Science Board issued its “National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of The U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System,” which stated that the United States was 19th among other industrialized nations in these subject areas.

In the report, the board recommended that the National Science Foundation develop programs that encourage student interest in STEM fields at all grade levels, provide tools to university faculty and administrators for STEM teacher preparation and continue to support programs that “build bridges between P-12 and higher education.”

The grant fits in with the NSF’s goals as well as President Barack Obama’s pledge to make STEM education a national priority. With the NSF grant, Jackson State, Mississippi’s largest HBCU, is joined with Hinds CC-Utica, which has the distinction of being a century-old HBCU. Founded in 1903 as Utica Normal and Industrial Institute, it became part of Hinds Community College in 1987. It is now one of six Hinds CC campuses, which have a total full-time equivalent enrollment of more than 14,100.

Dr. Jackson says the Utica campus enrollment of about 1,000 remains about 90 percent African-American.

A recent Civil Rights Commission Report [DiverseEducation.com, Dec. 13, 2010] stated that HBCUs produce a disproportionately high share of African-Americans with degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The Commission noted that 40 percent of all African-Americans with bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences and 38 percent who majored in math or biological sciences attended HBCUs.

Last year, President Obama identified three general priorities for STEM education, according to the Office of Science Education:

 

  • Increasing STEM literacy so all students can think critically in science, technology, engineering, and math and math;
  • Improving the quality of math and science teaching so American students are no longer outperformed by students in other nations; and
  • Expanding STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and minorities.

 

Hinds has a track record for attracting federal grants for innovative programs on its Utica campus. In 2001 it received a $300,000 HBCU grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support social service and educational needs of the Utica community. Barnes, who is co-directing the STEM project, also was the initial director of that grant program.

Jackson said she and her colleagues hope the project will serve as a national model to encourage similar partnerships throughout the nation.