In search of STEM students

Universities are turning to community colleges in the search for potential STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students who are black, Hispanic and/or female.

About Joanne


  1. >Most students reported struggling in at least one course…

    Geez, I’m trying to think of a course I *didn’t* struggle with.

    I guess I’m OK with these sorts of programs – whatever it takes to get more STEM graduates – I just hope they continue to promise that they’ll never ever help out a white male student.

  2. We’d have a much larger potential pool of STEM-capable kids (all colors and flavors) if we had better math curricula and instruction in ES (especially) and MS. Right now, by MS entry, lots of kids are so far behind that they’re very unlikely ever to become STEM-capable – and MS curriculm often doesn’t help them.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    From the article:

    Transfer students in STEM fields face the same problems any community college transfer might face: courses that don’t line up, credits that don’t transfer, trouble adjusting to the class size or format, a lack of a community feeling. Those problems, however, are often more acute for STEM students. After all, 500-person lecture classes are more common in science departments, and requirements are often more stringent in those fields, too; an engineering student who takes the wrong class in his first year at community college will likely have a harder time finishing a bachelor of science degree in four years than an English student would have with a bachelor of arts.

    I do not remember 500 person lecture hall classes as a junior or senior. And the CC transfer students would be juniors if they were on track to graduate in four years.

    Aren’t the 500 person classes pretty much freshman year? And maybe a bit of sophomore year?

    Or are things different in engineering (I majored in chemistry) and 500 person classes are the norm all four years?

    • Foobarista says:

      I went from CC to Berkeley as a STEM major, and one of the huge benefits of CC _was_ the smaller classes for the various freshman and sophomore core classes. My CC freshman English classes had only about 20 people, the calculus series had 30-40, and engineering physics had 25-40. At UCB, the equivalent classes were in the usual ginormous lecture halls with hundreds of kids.

      OTOH, upper division classes were far smaller and more in line with the class sizes at CC.

  4. Mark,

    For any engineering major, a school which has appropriate engineering accreditation would have the following classwork for a first year student (in core classes):

    Calculus I/II (which is a requirement for admission to an electrical engineering major)
    Engineering Physics I/II
    English 101/102
    Poly Sci 101 and (sociology, psych, econ, or fine arts)

    Adding up the credits in the first semester:

    Calculus I (4 credit hours)
    Engineering Physics 1 (4 credit hours)
    English 101 (3 credit hours)
    Poly Sci 101 (3 credit hours) total is 14 hours

    and same for the 2nd semester.

    So for a Electrical Engineering major who wants to transfer from a community college program, they’d have to amass approximately 56-66 credit hours and stick quite closely to the guidelines at the four year university in terms of coursework.

    I have to agree also with Mom of 4, when it comes to MS students, since they’re way behind the curve in terms of math and science (which is really the key to getting the career of choice later in life, STEM related).

    The 500 student lecture hall is common the first year for STEM majors, but as a rule, it serves as a weed out time for marginal or on the edge students (at least that’s what I remember from my Comp Sci days).

    • In the life sciences and health-care fields (med tech, nursing, PT etc), the large freshman sciences are also weed-outs. Those who fail (usually defined as below C) are certain to lose a semester (if the school offers both semesters of each course in both semesters) and, more likely, a whole year. They can’t advance in either the science sequence or the pre/professional sequence, because the freshman sciences are prereqs for both. And, realistically, if they can’t make it through the freshman sciences, they’re highly unlikely to make it through subsequent coursework – so it’s best for them to know that, soonest.

    • Foobarista says:

      Wouldn’t there be four semesters of calculus/diff. equations and three semesters of “high grade” engineering physics? When I transferred, that is what was required.

  5. Momof4,

    Most colleges with good programs usually have a max attempt limit on coursework, at my old school, it was a maximum of 7 attempts for 5 basic core classes in Comp Sci (which consisted of 2 intro courses, a more advanced course (2nd year), and two 2nd semester sophomore/1st semester junior level courses (300 levels).

    If they couldn’t make it through these courses, they’d usually would be administratively dropped, of course when I attended, if you hadn’t gotten a clue on your own after 4 to 6 weeks in the first class, you usually dropped, or gave a serious consideration to changing majors.

  6. All well and good; but do we really NEED so many more STEM majors? Or is it an issue of equality and access?

    As my wife nears 15 years post-PhD experience in the biotech industry; she watches the daily announcements and layoffs in pharma/biotech and the shrinking of employment opportunities. A teacher with a PhD and 15 years experience makes half-ish the cash; but the benefits are much better and the is the advantage of the 180ish day official calendar.

    • I’ve read varying definitions of STEM, with some much more limited than others. Some of the healthcare fields, like the ones I mentioned, function more like the “classic” STEM definition, because of the hierarchical, sequential structure of the discipline and because of the unforgiving nature of the process and the associated willingness to dismiss/fail weak students. Licensure exams with real teeth (unlike most teacher licensing exams) make a big difference; schools whose grads fail them are in trouble.

      However, I take your point. My DH and I have a close relative who is finishing her PhD in biomedical engineering at a very strong university and we are very interested to hear what her job search is like. (she doesn’t want to do a post-doc,if she can avoid it)

    • I am an MS chemist and in my field the pipeline is controlled in grad school very tightly. At least it was when I was going through. Unfortunately, you didn’t know it was being controlled from without until you got to grad school. It was known how many PhD chemists were needed.

      I am not sure we need more STEM people, unless they are saying we want more American ones. There used to be a consistently low unemployment rate for chemists, at about 1%, because things were tightly controlled but now our unemployment rate is like everybody else’s.

    • Also to Sean: I think equality and access are not issues, at least for women, except perhaps in physics and mathematics. I think the “female problem” in STEM is just because the work itself doesn’t appeal. The philosopher Edith Stein wrote quite a bit on women in the workplace. Interesting stuff.

  7. Trying to make high tech more attractive to females is a great idea, but in many instances, the overall market tends to be male dominated (it certainly is in IT/CS/MIS), but that’s not surprising at all, it can be very difficult sitting in front of a computer system for 8+ hours a day and in many instances, females can make better money in ancillary STEM fields with a lot less effort and more job satisfaction.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      Also, it will be difficult to have 50%+ women in all fields. We don’t have comparable programs to drive them out of traditionally female fields (e.g. primary school education).