South Florida State College Awarded Department of Education $5 Million STEM Grant

South Florida State College has been awarded a nearly $5 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to launch a postsecondary Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) project called “Re-Engineering Our Future.” Similar to one of FLATE’s outreach initiatives in reaching out to a diverse populace that include reaching out to students in rural areas, SFSC’s Re-Engineering Our Future project is expected to create educational opportunities for Hispanic and low-income students in the college’s service district of DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands counties. “We at FLATE are excited to have SFCC join the ranks of state and community colleges in Florida offering the Engineering Technology degree, and are looking forward to mentoring their adoption and implementation” said Dr. Marilyn Barger, Executive Director of FLATE.

For the project, the SFSC will focus on four major activities. These will center on developing a high-tech degree pathway with
transfer into the University of South Florida and Florida Polytechnic University, to improve pre-collegiate services to better prepare low-income Hispanic students for these programs; to improve college academic support and students services to better support low-income Hispanic college students, and to create a more culturally sensitive campus culture to increase student engagement and success at the college. Funds from the grant will allow SFSC to create and adopt new degree programs like the FLATE-developed statewide A.S. ET degree, mechatronics, and biomedical science. These high-tech degree pathways are expected to make it easier for students to transfer directly into biomedical science degree programs at the University of South Florida and/or one of several engineering programs at Florida Polytechnic University. In fact, SFSC will be the first college to set up such an articulation agreement with Florida Polytechnic University.

Through the grant, $1 million worth of new, state-of-the-art technology will support these programs as well as enhance the lab sciences courses at the Hardee and DeSoto campuses.  Included will be a series of mechatronics and engineering-specific lab equipment. “This grant will enhance academic and support services for students seeking STEM degrees,” said Dr. Timothy Wise, dean of Student Services, and project director for the STEM grant. It will provide resources to hire specialists who will provide support who can assist students, such as academic advisors, recruiters, tutors, coaches. The biomedical science program will make use of a negative 80 degrees freezer, phase contrast microscope, fluorescent microscope, illuminometer, and nuclear magnetic resonant spectrometer. The college also plans to send two instructors to Berlin, Germany, for Level One and Level Two Siemens mechatronics training and certification. Siemens is known for offering the gold standard of training in the field of mechatronics.   

SFSC’s student population is 30.6 percent Hispanic, and is considered a Hispanic-serving institution. The grant will allow SFSC to
reach out to students and their families, and expand campus-based services and support for Hispanic students. For instance, the college will produce Spanish language versions of key student services materials focused on graduation and transfer. The college will create a more culturally-sensitive institutional environment through employee professional development sessions. Given the critical role mathematics plays in serving as a firm foundation for preparing students for STEM majors, a summer program called MathSteps will be available to recent high school graduates, first-year-in-college students, and dually enrolled students. It will prepare students for college-level mathematics and all the way through pre-calculus, if needed.  

Students will be able to participate in a residential program developed in conjunction with Florida Gulf Coast University so SFSC students can learn more about what engineering students do. Other student support will include expanding tutoring opportunities for the college’s Hardee and Highlands campuses. SFSC will also create a Spanish language version of its new student orientation and develop an orientation specifically for parents of potential students so families of students can learn more about the first year of college. Plans are also underway for SFSC to employ an early alert program so instructors, coaches, or support personnel can better identify students who are running into academic, or personal stumbling blocks.

Students who have graduated from SFSC and encounter the challenges of transition to a university will be able to rely upon ‘Inside Track’ coaching for support. This nationally recognized, distance-based coaching service assists students in navigating through the academic experience. “The ‘Re-Engineering Our Future’ project is a perfect example of how education and economic development can work together,” Dr. Leitzel said. To sustain the momentum of the “Re-Engineering Our Future” project, SFSC will kick start a $250,000 endowment to go hand-in-hand with SFSC Foundation’s Partnership Project. Donations to the endowment would be matched one-to-one and used to support ongoing programs and student scholarships for Hispanic and low-income students.
For more information about the SFSC STEM grant contact Erik Christensen, Dean of Applied Sciences and Technologies at Erik.Christensen@southflorida.edu/863.784.7424, or visit   http://www.southflorida.edu. For information on FLATE’s STEM-based programs and initiatives and the award-winning A.S degree in Engineering Technology visit the Made in Florida page, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org.