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Cal State Bakersfield Nets $5M to Improve Equity in STEM

Cal State Bakersfield has won a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help expand access to STEM-related fields through internships, community outreach, research and local partnerships.

(TNS) — Cal State Bakersfield announced the U.S. Department of Education awarded the School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering a $5 million grant over five years to expand access to STEM-related careers.

The money will be funneled toward creating more internships, offering specialized career counseling and outreach to the community, broadening research opportunities and strengthening bonds with local companies seeking talent, according to a university news release.

"It's a tremendous example of what we're doing here at the institution," said CSUB Provost Dr. Vernon Harper, a key individual in securing the grant. "With this particular grant, [we are] continuing our mission: to expand access to all types of careers and fields. This grant will really be supportive in opening those doors."

Many students take the appropriate courses for their degree but are unaware of industry norms, said CSUB mathematics professor Dr. Charles Lam, who also led the application and is the project director for the grant program.

"We hope ... to open their eyes so that — after they get introduced to different careers, different opportunities — they will actually also take the initiative to explore [their interests]," Lam said.

A key component of the award includes creating industry relationships in Kern County by offering students internships. Many companies must outsource for talent, which leads to some employees leaving this area, said Interim Dean of NSME Dr. Todd McBride, who was also involved in the application process. The job opportunities come from engineering firms and energy companies, he added.

"We really want to develop our own local talent to provide STEM-educated professionals for Kern County companies and keep the talent at home," McBride said.

A new position called the STEM internship and career coordinator with Career Education and Community Engagement will be funded to help introduce students to various jobs. Also, another newly created position, an outreach coordinator and community college liaison, will increase exposure for various underrepresented minority groups, according to CSUB's news release.

CSUB, in collaboration with Bakersfield College, aims to host bilingual family workshops about STEM jobs. Supportive families are essential to encourage CSUB's many first-generation college students to enter the STEM field, McBride said. These families will understand how such opportunities can aid their children's socioeconomic advancement through the seminars, he added.

Though the designed grant specifically targets schools with large Latino populations, the expanded services are available for everyone, McBride said. The Department of Education recognizes CSUB as an Hispanic-Serving Institution, or a university with at least 25 percent full-time enrolled Hispanic students.

"The saying that's used a lot in higher education is: 'An incoming tide rises all boats,'" McBride said. "We provide services to everybody and it lifts the success of all students."

Lam highlighted that minorities in the STEM field are underrepresented. This grant attempts to increase the presence of people of color within the industry, he added.

Other new additions include a speaker series of CSUB alumni in STEM careers and forging partnerships between students and faculty to complete a summer research project. Individuals will present their findings and then can apply for funds to continue their work throughout the academic year, McBride said.

Harper, McBride and Lam collaborated with other science department heads to complete the application process. CSUB has been awarded other grants by the Department of Education before; however, faculty sought to secure this grant to provide an expansive introduction to careers post-college, Lam said. The funds will come into effect Oct. 1, and program development will begin afterward, according to CSUB's news release.

©2021 The Bakersfield Californian, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.