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Program provides support, quality

STEM sees increase in majors, transfer rates

By Jose Jimenez, staff writer
On March 6, 2014

  • Engineering majors Diego Garica (left) and Yosimy Cortes (right) work on a circuitry problem for their Engineering 230 class in PS-109 on Monday. Christian Urrutia / The Advocate

Engineering majors have been increasing and excelling within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program under the support structure of the 2001 presidential academic award-winning Center for Science Excellence (CSE) on campus.
The number of students declaring themselves as engineering majors has increased by 17 percent since 2010 among students in the CSE at Contra Costa College.
Currently, engineering majors associated with the CSE are at 42 percent and that number will only continue to grow, CSE program director Setiati Sidharta said.
The mission of the CSE is to provide students strong academic support in STEM areas, thus enhancing their academic experiences and better preparing them for a seamless transfer to a four-year college, Dr. Sidharta said.
"Our vision is to educate, train and support more students," she said. "Nowadays more and more mechanical and civil engineering opportunities are coming back in a big way."
STEM classes include, but are not limited to, astronomy, biological sciences, chemistry, earth science, engineering, mathematics and physics.
The STEM program is currently serving a total of 172 students, and has served more than 800 students overall, she said.
Chemical engineering major Kevin Hernandez said that the STEM program and the professors affiliated with it have been tremendously helpful.
Civil engineering major Ramon Valencia agrees.
"This program helps out by providing internships and seminars and by encouraging students to keep striving for the best," Valencia said.
Both Hernandez and Valencia are in their second semester at CCC and agree that the CSE program helps out students substantially.
Part of the Natural, Social and Applied Sciences Division at CCC, the STEM program is housed within the Physical Sciences Building. PS-109 is regularly filled with students taking advantage of every resource the CSE has to offer.
The CSE is committed to providing students a safe learning environment with academic and career mentoring by professors and professionals, including faculty led workshops in chemistry, physics and mathematics, peer tutoring and presentations by actual field professionals, Sidharta said.
The center also arranges academic field trips to venues with scientific or technological emphasis and provides students information on scholarships and internship opportunities, she said.
In 2010, biological sciences majors were the largest group participating in the CSE program, making up 43 percent of CSE students, while math majors were the lowest at 4 percent, Sidharta said. Today, the number of math majors in the program is even lower at 1 percent, and biological, physical and computer science majors in the program have declined as well, she said.
"Many students choose majors because of the potential job that awaits them," she said.
Sidharta said she attributes the decline in mathematics majors to a notion among students that jobs in the field are limited. But that should not discourage them from taking the opportunity to be part of such a great and diverse program at CCC.
"Think about it. If someone majors in mathematics, the difficulty of landing a job decreases," she said. "Yes, examples of great careers include a statistician or a math teacher at the college level; however, that in itself requires a master's degree in math."
Last year, 62 percent of transferring STEM students went to University of California campuses, almost double that of the remaining 38 percent who went to California State Universities.
The CSE-STEM program meets all requirements in the distribution of transferring students to UCs and CSUs.
At the end of 2010, Asians led the all-time enrollment in the program at 38 percent, of the three major minority ethnic groups enrolled at CCC - Asian-American, African-American and Hispanics.
Hispanics finished second at 20 percent of enrollees, surpassing African-Americans, primarily due to a late push supported by the assistance of the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI).
HSI works in collaboration with the STEM program, Sidharta said, and that is where the "big money" is for Latinos.
"There is an increasing Latino population," she said, adding that Hispanics are now the highest ethnicity group enrolled in the CSE program at CCC.
At the end of January, Hispanics made up 45 percent of the ethnic distribution in the CSE.
Sidharta said that she values the diversity of the program and the community that CCC serves. 

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