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UMass unveils STEM education initiative

Banner Staff

Aimed at doubling STEM degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities

WASHINGTON — University of Massachusetts (UMass) President Robert L. Caret unveiled last week an innovative program aimed at doubling the number of underrepresented minority students graduating with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) degrees from UMass and the state’s 15 community colleges.

“This program will fuel our state’s innovation economy by increasing the number of students earning science and technology degrees, and also advances the important social goal of encouraging more people from underrepresented minority groups to enter these burgeoning fields,” Caret said.

“This important effort brings higher education and the business community together to advance shared goals and to shape a better future for Massachusetts and its citizens.”

Under the program, which goes into effect this fall, UMass and the community colleges will work over the next four years to double the number of students from underrepresented minority groups earning associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in the STEM fields.

The program, called ABLE 4 STEM, was announced at a Capitol Hill forum hosted by the Business-Higher Education Forum (BHEF). The program is an initiative led by the university in collaboration with the community colleges of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership (MACP) and the Massachusetts Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.

The MACP and business partners will provide funding for the program and will provide internships and other hands-on opportunities for STEM students.

The program was hailed as an important collaboration that addresses significant economic and social needs.

“STEM plays a vital role in our growth strategy here in Massachusetts  —  a strategy focused on education, innovation and infrastructure,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “I applaud UMass for recognizing the importance of STEM and look forward to working with our leaders at UMass and our community colleges to implement a successful program that will ensure that all of our students are prepared for careers in the 21st century global economy.”

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson has highlighted the importance of STEM education. He said, “In today’s economy, a STEM education offers technical and research skills that open doors for students of color who want to be competitive leaders in the state’s technology-based job market. It is essential to the communities of color and Boston in particular that private and public partnerships dedicate their resources to diversifying the STEM-educated population.”

The MACP, with lead business partners Suffolk Construction and Raytheon, will contribute to the effectiveness of the program by providing support to ensure the successful transition of students from community colleges to UMass. MACP will provide opportunities for hands-on learning experiences and summer internships in the areas of green science and engineering, life sciences, laboratory and field placements and sustainable solutions.

During the 2011 academic year, 188 underrepresented minority students earned STEM degrees throughout the UMass system  — which awarded a total of 2,159 STEM bachelor’s degrees. Also in 2011, within the 15 community colleges in Massachusetts, 161 of the 1,322 associate’s degrees earned in the STEM majors were awarded to underrepresented minority students.

Material supplied by UMass Boston contributed to this report.