MCLA debuting collaborative STEM program for community college students


NORTH ADAMS -- Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and its Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation will be a hub of STEM activity over the next several weeks.

The regularly used acronym refers to the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

MCLA will debut next week a collaborative program, "413 STEM Ready." From July 21 through 25, this program will prepare students from Berkshire, Holyoke and Greenfield community colleges --all in the 413 area code -- for the STEM fields. It will include a residential experience on the MCLA campus, something most community college students don't experience, as well as STEM major and career explorations.

MCLA received a grant of $239,334 last fall from the state Department of Higher Education's Performance Initiative Fund to develop the consortium.

"From mentors, tutors and courses to support academic learning, to internships and leadership projects, students may participate in programs that will guide them along a successful STEM career pathway," said Cynthia Brown, MCLA's vice president of academic affairs, in a press statement.

A tandem "413 STEM Ready Scholars" initiative will run during the regular academic year to continue supporting students' studies in these fields.

Simultaneously next week, MCLA will host a five-day science and robotics camp for students in grades 6 to 9. Campers will use programmable materials from the LEGO Mindstorms series, including the RCX and NXT generations, to create robots. Other activities will include rocket building and launching, and a trip to "outer space" in the college's inflatable Starlab planetarium.

From July 29 through 31, the college will host for youths in grades 5 through 7, a computer programming camp. It will include teaching students the basics of programs such as Scratch, a free program created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (; Alice, a free animation program that works in a 3D environment (; Microsoft's Visual Studio and Java.

MCLA's second annual STEM Academy will be held Aug. 3 through 7. The program is designed for incoming freshmen who plan to major in science or math, or who are interested in those majors. They'll attend classes in chemistry, physics, biology and math to get a taste of the type of work they'll be doing as science majors and interact with faculty.

These students will also work with "STEM Academy Fellows" -- current or recently graduated MCLA science students -- on skills such as time management, organization, and strategies for studying and preparing for classes.

Also this summer, four interns, two each from MCLA and Williams College -- are working with educators from North Adams Public Schools (NAPS) through a program called "Teaching to Learn," to collaboratively design science units for specific topics and grades. These units will be implemented this fall in area elementary schools.

"[The students] are learning about designing curriculum, based on the new science standards," said MCLA Dean of Academic Affairs Monica Joslin. "It benefits the students in the program, enticing them to teach in the STEM fields, but it also benefits the local schools that will use the lessons."

According to Nick Stroud, Ph.D., assistant professor of science/technology education at MCLA, the interns are working independently, but with the support of elementary school teachers, college faculty and other NAPS staff.

Other summer STEM initiatives include the college's first annual Undergraduate Research Institute. It builds on planning work done by members of MCLA's Undergraduate Research Program faculty several years ago under the leadership of psychology professor Maria Bartini, Ph.D., and biology professor Ann Billetz, Ph.D., as part of a Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC) workshop.

"Undergraduate research provides students with multiple benefits such as sharpening of critical thinking and problem solving skills, and promotes a culture of innovation," Joslin said. "It's an opportunity for our students to focus on research on a full-time basis, and work in close contact with a faculty mentor."

The projects, to be completed by the end of the summer, will be presented at next year's Undergraduate Research Conference at MCLA. These collaborations of four faculty members and five students include: a project in conjunction with Nuclea Biotechnologies; a computer science project on machine learning to find patterns in biological data; an assessment of embryonic learning and response to chemical stimuli inside zebrafish eggs, and a "Chemical Graph Theory Research" project.


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