Register Now Banner

STEM Starter Academy Draws In Students

January, 2017
  • Malachy Jackson and Joseph Agwanda

Even if you have heard of the STEM Starter Academy, you may not realize how many different programs the initiative is involved in.

The program funds summer programs to encourage college readiness and expose students to STEM fields, hosts a STEM exploration workshop day for high school students, as well as funding projects and attendance at certain conferences.

STEM Starter Academy (SSA) is a is a state-funded initiative to support community college efforts at all 15 campuses to inform, engage, recruit, retain, and graduate significantly more students in STEM. The primary goal is to graduate more community students with STEM degrees and certificates so they can either enter the work force or transfer to a four-year institution. The secondary goal is to recruit more students into the STEM pipeline at the community colleges.

Malachy Jackson, 18, first attended an exploration day when he was a senior at North High School. He said his guidance counselor recommended the program. The workshop included programs exposing Worcester area students to robotics, biochemistry, photonics and more.

“After the workshop, I was encouraged to attend the STEAM Summer Bridge program, which was an awesome opportunity, it was really great,” he said. “I have wanted to be an engineer all my life, but I was able to learn more about STEM programs, what classes I would need and how to work towards my major.”

Now a freshman at QCC, Mr. Jackson said the math boot camp and English programs he took during the summer, also funded by SSA, helped him know what to expect from his classes, as well improving his placement test scores.

“Coming out of high school I wasn’t the best student, but I knew I needed to go to college and take it seriously to be an engineer,” he said.

The STEAM Summer Bridge program includes hands-on lab exploration, college-readiness programs and campus tours. Through the program, he received his student id, took tours of the facilities, and said he was better prepared to hit the ground running when classes started.

“STEM Starter Academy was a chance for me to be better than I was in high school,” he said.

He said his first semester is going well, he is hoping to hear from PTK, the community college honor society, so he can join that as well.

He has discussed different transfer agreements with other colleges with his advisor, so he is taking classes he knows will transfer as credits for a four-year degree.

“I would definitely recommend it,” he said of the STEM Exploration Workshop. “It really changed my life.”

The SSA initiative also funds STEM research programs, which not only expose students to different programs, but also can help create programs that help future students.

QCC student Joseph Agwanda was able to attend a statewide undergraduate research conference at UMass Amherst last April. The STEM Starter Academy supported the research project and funded students attending the conference, where they presented their project about learning Java Script, in which they created a template to help other students learn computer programming.

“That experience helped me become more interested in STEM,” said Mr. Agwanda. He worked with another QCC student, Ozias Gonet, who has since transferred to WPI, and Professor Hao Loi, to develop the program.

He is now taking Calculus III and chemistry and plans to take courses at QCC through next fall semester before transferring to a four-year program.

Doing research for the project and writing the presentation helped with his research, presentation and public speaking skills, Mr. Agwanda said. “We nailed it,” he said proudly. “Creating this to help others learn programming skills was a fun and exciting project to be involved in.”

The Worcester resident, 22, originally attended a four-year college, but had dropped out because he wasn’t sure what to declare for a major. “I took a year off, and I was interested in programming and science, so I decided to attend QCC because it was more affordable and had different articulation agreements.”

He said he has made sure to take classes that are required for the WPI transfer program, which he said could be used as credits to transfer to either Fitchburg State University or the University of Massachusetts.

To learn more about STEM Starter Academy, contact Darcy Carlson, STEM Starter Academy project coordinator at dcarlson [at] qcc.mass.edu or 508.854.4441 or visit the STEM Starter Academy website.