413 STEM Ready Academy: MCLA program aims to inspire community college students

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NORTH ADAMS — Adrienne Wootters says when she meets community college students who transfer into her department at MCLA, they seem to know where they're going with their studies.

"They're always really well-prepared and interested," said Wootters, a physics professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

For the second consecutive summer, the college is hosting an immersion program in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to enrich the STEM experiences of students from three of the region's community colleges.

The week-long 413 STEM Ready Academy, which concluded on Friday, included 25 students: nine from Berkshire Community College, and eight each from Holyoke and Greenfield community colleges.

The program is offered at no cost; it is funded through a $239,334 grant awarded in 2013 to MCLA through the state Department of Higher Education's Performance Initiative Fund.

"By immersing them in STEM coursework, our hope is that this will encourage them to go into a four-year program or beyond in exploring this field," said Mary Nash.

Nash, a program development and evaluation consultant for MCLA, is co-coordinating the Academy with Jennifer Swoap, assistant director of the Center for Learning in Actions at Williams College.

During the week, students took campus tours, did team-building activities, conducted work in the labs of the MCLA Feigenbaum Center for Science & Innovation. They also took field trips to meet and have dinner with STEM professionals from local employers like Berkshire Dynamics, Northern Berkshire Health Systems, MCLA and Williams.

Participating professors included MCLA's David Eve (computer science), Robert Harris (chemistry), Sarah Herrick (biology), Daniel Shustack (environmental science) and Wootters; Williams College astronomy professor, Steven Souza, and electron microscopy technician Nancy Piatczyc.

"It's a great experience to be able to meet other people, go to another institution and get a sense of the four-year college life, and ask professionals for advice," said Fiona Lowry, a pre-veterinary student from Greenfield Community College.

"Exposure to the different fields is a great value. If you go into another college with little experience you could be blindsided or go in with a disadvantage," said Guinevere Vanhorne. She's also a GCC student who recently transferred to Smith College with hopes of becoming a physician's assistant.

In addition to support from Nash and Swoap, the 413 STEM Ready Academy group also worked with a team of STEM teaching fellows: HCC graduate Francis LaFlamme, a math major at Westfield State University; Paige Fillio ('17) of Adams, an allied health and biology major with a concentration in chemistry at MCLA; Alex Lopez ('16) of West Simsbury, Conn., who is majoring in computer science with a minor in mathematics at MCLA; and Program Fellow Gabriella Prata ('16) of Danbury, Conn., who is a double major in biology and political science at MCLA.

"I think we're all learning this week, not just the academy students," said Fillio. "We all have one thing in common, and that's science."


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