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Waubonsee Voices: STEM is alive at Waubonsee Community College

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 5:32 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013 9:35 a.m. CDT

Waubonsee Community College is about to start the fourth year of a five-year National Science Foundation-funded STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scholarship grant.

Disciplines include biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering science, physics, mathematics and the geosciences (earth science, geology, oceanography, astronomy, meteorology and geography). Scholarship recipients are recruited from local high schools and from among current Waubonsee students. New and returning STEM scholars form a learning community nurtured by 12 faculty mentors and counselors. Selection criteria include high grades in STEM courses, high overall grade-point average, recommendations from faculty and personal essays.

In addition to the scholarships, our NSF STEM scholars participate in a variety of activities and have access to a variety of resources and networking opportunities that are designed to ensure that they form a cohesive and dynamic group that completes an associate degree and transfers to a baccalaureate institution.

The most effective component is likely the mentoring of the scholar by a faculty member in their discipline. We also ask our STEM scholars to participate in STEM-related activities on and off campus so that they are exposed to STEM disciplines other than their own.

Finally, scholars are asked to give a presentation at one of our monthly meetings as if it were at a professional conference. The STEM scholar who receives the highest evaluation, as determined by the other scholars, is able to attend a professional conference in his or her STEM discipline.

After this second year of distributing scholarships, Waubonsee faculty and staff have mentored the futures of 40 promising STEM professionals. Nearly all of the STEM scholars who have completed the scholarship program have transferred to a four-year college to complete a baccalaureate degree in schools ranging from the University of Hawaii to the University of California, Berkley, as well as many schools in Illinois. These budding STEM professionals were able to complete their studies because of the dedication and enthusiasm of the faculty and staff of Waubonsee who are part of this scholarship program. We are still accepting applications for a few remaining openings for the 2013-14 academic year.

In the 2012 Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference STEM poster competition, three of the four winners from Waubonsee were STEM scholars. During that same competition, entries from Waubonsee students swept the Biological Sciences/Life Sciences category competition, winning first, second and third places. In the 2013 competition, a STEM scholar won second place in the Life Science/Earth Science Division. Additionally, Dan Ward, professor of biology, was inducted into the Co-Curricular Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference Hall of Fame in June for his contributions to the development and success of the Skyway STEM poster competition.

Waubonsee’s NSF STEM scholarship provides affordable access to academically talented STEM majors looking to start on a bachelor’s degree. More information about the scholarship can be found on our website at www.waubonsee.edu/STEM.

• David Voorhees is associate professor for earth science/geology. He also serves as principal investigator for Waubonsee’s NSF STEM scholarship program and is faculty advisor for S.O.S. (Students Organizing Sustainability). The “Waubonsee Voices” column runs the third Wednesday of each month in the Kane County Chronicle.

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