Bill would help support STEM education

By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
A proposed bill will help strengthen the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education and training programs in throughout New Mexico, including Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, where STEM contributions are already increasing the capacity of the classrooms and level of education, college officials say.
U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, and Representatives Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham, both Democrats, and Steve Pearce, Republican,  introduced the STEM Support for Teachers in Education and Mentoring (STEM2) Act June 12.
The STEM2 Act includes a package of initiatives designed to improve student interest and performance in STEM skills. It would help teachers and schools better engage students in STEM fields by providing additional STEM professional development resources and facilitating collaboration among the business and education communities in order to better identify STEM skills needed by the work force.
“This legislation opens up pathways for collaboration between businesses and teachers to ensure that students are getting the skills they need to be successful in tomorrow’s job market,” Heinrich said. “STEM education plays a critical role in America’s ability to meet the demands of the 21st Century, like developing new energy technology, advancing national defense strategies, and raising health care quality through computerized advancements.”
Those initiatives are to:
• Develop effective state STEM networks among schools, teachers, administrators, institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations and businesses to increase communication and collaboration in these fields:
• Establish matching grant training programs for summer institutes and other professional development enrichment programs for teachers to improve STEM education in elementary, middle and high school
• Develop a national panel to evaluate and identify rigorous K-12 STEM curricula models, including computer and/or web-based simulation education programs and hands-on learning.
The STEM education and training programs were instituted to address the data released in the 2011 National Math and Science Initiative which showed only 45 percent of U.S. high school graduates were ready for college-level math, and only 30 percent ready for college-level science.
At Mesalands, “the STEM funding has been very beneficial by allowing the college to increase the capacity of the classrooms and level of education offered to students,” said Janice Aragon, Mesalands STEM project director.
Aragon said STEM funding has been designed to improve and expand the levels and types of education and training in science, technology, engineering and math fields. She said it helps provide an edge to the students working to complete their certification and associate’s degree programs at Mesalands, or if they choose to continue their education at a four-year college or university.
Aragon said the five-year program of STEM funding at Mesalands is slated to receive $3.8 million that will be used towards enhancements of curriculum and upgrading of equipment and classrooms/laboratories at the college. She said college has just received its third year’s allocation of more than $773,900 that be used to develop new computer course curriculum, although the bulk of the money will be used towards the college’s Dinosaur Museum and Natural Science Laboratory.
“The money will help us to upgrade the equipment at the Dinosaur Museum and Natural Science Laboratory as well as expand their classroom,” Aragon said.
Aragon said with the improvements in technology and curriculum Mesalands can  enhance education for students both on-campus and in distance education programs.
Mesalands received nearly $777,200 in 2011 which was used for the remodeling of physical science laboratory, construction of the life science laboratory and remodeling of a classroom to create the math and science learning center which offers a a free tutoring service for the Both Mesalands and duel enrollment students.
In 2012 Mesalands received about $771,300 that was used towards the upgrading of the equipment in the computer lab and further enhancement of the math and science center, development of new STEM curriculum at the college and lab equipment for the life and physical science laboratories.

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