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Community College Students Can Explore STEM, Research in Expanded Program

$5 Million Grant Continues Project RAISE
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Cal State Fullerton has received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to collaborate with nine local community colleges to support STEM transfer students. The funding will allow Project RAISER (Regional Alliance in STEM Education Refined), to continue operation of Project RAISE, a STEM transfer support program that enables community college students to conduct research at CSUF and helps ease the transition to the university for transfer STEM majors. Project RAISER will also provide internship and research preparation programs as well as support and peer advisors to advise and mentor STEM transfer students.

Working in collaboration with nine community college partners, the CSUF College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and the College of Engineering and Computer Science, this grant will ensure that students’ learning opportunities align with skills necessary to meet workplace needs. The grant is under the direction of principal investigator Megan Drangstveit, who also directed the Project RAISE grant, and co-principal investigator and Associate Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science Sang June Oh.

The new grant will host the 2022 Undergraduate Research Experience, an eight-week paid research program for community college students. The community colleges partnering on the new grant are: Citrus, Cypress, Fullerton, Golden West, Irvine Valley, Orange Coast, Saddleback, Santa Ana and Santiago Canyon Colleges.

Megan Drangstveit

“Students who are or may be interested in STEM careers should take advantage of this excellent opportunity, as it assists with their adjustment to the university, as well as prepares them in practical and intellectual ways for future career endeavors,” said Drangstveit. “Our students do exceptionally well. We know that community college students might initially be apprehensive because they haven’t taken many upper division STEM classes, but we want them to know that we’re excited to work with them in this capacity, and help with their transition to the Titan family.”

Research options explored by students in prior summer research projects include such topics as working with drones, fieldwork in tidepools, Alzheimer’s research (from a chemistry perspective), how to develop and analyze computer-based information, and more.

Faculty members from Cal State Fullerton work with select groups of students, assigning readings and trainings, meeting with students, and conducting research projects at CSUF throughout the program. Students have the chance to work closely with CSUF faculty, which gives them a strong foundation for future research participation, graduate school and STEM careers.

“Last year, we interviewed 82 students and selected 32 participants,” Drangstveit said. “This year, we anticipate more students will be interested in participating as we return to in-person activities. As we interview prospective participants, we try to determine projects they might be interested in and match them with approximately 20-25 faculty members who are excited to work on research with the students.”

Project RAISE staff work closely with their community college colleagues to make the transition to a four-year institution as seamless as possible. The program also employs peer advisors in STEM majors to work with community college students.

“We have 12 peer advisors who help transfer students by providing advice and guidance,” Drangstveit said. “Students often respond better to their peers than they would faculty or staff, and often aren’t afraid to ask questions of those experiencing similar transitions. Our peer advisors serve as the first point of contact for new transfers at CSUF and share their own experiences. We host a variety of activities for STEM transfer students to help them get familiar with their new campus, explore resources, be successful at CSUF, and explore internship and research options to prepare for life after graduation. Project RAISER will allow us to build on the successes of Project RAISE.

“RAISE and RAISER provide the opportunity for students to conduct research in CSUF labs and get a feel for what that’s like,” she continued. “They are often invited to attend conferences and when faculty publish their research, the students are often credited as authors on their work. About a quarter of the students end up enrolling at Cal State Fullerton. Some hadn’t planned on coming to CSUF but after their summer research experiences, they discover all that CSUF has to offer. This is a way that the university can make a huge impact on STEM transfer students.”

Project RAISER is expected to be funded through 2026.For more information, visit the Project Raise website.

Valerie Orleans