Friday, June 5, 2015

Mesa College Program Provides Pathway to High-Priority USDA STEM Fields

San Diego Mesa College has accepted its first cohort of students for an ambitious new scholars program aimed at increasing the number of Hispanics studying science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to address looming agricultural challenges across the world.

The first cohort of 20 students – 10 from area high schools including Madison, Kearny, Clairemont and Mission Bay high schools, and 10 from Mesa College – will meet June 8 for a team-building event at Mesa College that includes an Iron Chef-like cooking competition.

The SEEDS Scholar Program – SEEDS is an acronym for STEM Engagement for Enrichment of Diverse Students – is funded by a four-year, $290,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the agency’s program-building National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“We designed the SEEDS program to attract underrepresented students to study and explore STEM fields that have been defined as high-priority areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These include sustainability, global food security, and hunger,” said Dr. Leticia P. Lopéz, a Mesa College Spanish Professor who also serves as a SEEDS Scholars Program Co-Coordinator.

“We are looking for students who are concerned about the environment and concerned about how we are going to feed a world population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050,” she added.

The program’s multidisciplinary academic curricula will prepare students to transfer to San Diego State University (SDSU) and UC San Diego (UCSD). They include courses in the fields of Anthropology, Nutrition, Spanish, Biology, Geology, Geography and Personal Growth.

“Mesa College is proud to be designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution. The SEEDs project is among the most innovative programs and practices being developed by Mesa College faculty to provide pathways for this growing student population into STEM fields.” noted President, Dr. Pamela T. Luster. “Under Dr. Lopez’s guidance and vision, we are setting the groundwork and training them to apply what they will learn to make a difference in the world.”

Mesa College was awarded the $290,000 grant in 2014.  The first year was devoted to mapping out the program, building transfer pathways and mentor programs with SDSU and UCSD, and getting the word out to seniors at area high schools.

Lopez is also working to build workforce coalitions with partners such as the USDA National Conservation Resource Center in Escondido, San Diego Food Bank and the San Diego County Farm Bureau, and businesses such as Dean’s Greens, Revolution Landscape, and Urban Plantations.

Word has been spreading fast. In February, Dr. Lopéz and Biostatistics Professor Kevin Cummins took 60 high school seniors to San Diego State University and UC San Diego to learn about sustainability and possible career paths.  The following month, more than 40 Clairemont and Mission Bay High school students visited Mesa College for a tour and a visit from President Pamela Luster before taking their math and English assessment tests.

High school students accepted into the program will take part in a Summer Bridge experience at the campus to prepare them for college life. The top student graduating from the initial cohort will be awarded a $40,000 scholarship to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sustainability, agriculture, or another STEM-related field.

Among the largest community colleges in California and the nation, San Diego Mesa College is a fully accredited two-year college serving nearly 25,000 students and offering more than 190 associate degree and certificate programs, and in fall 2015, a baccalaureate degree in the field of Health Information Management.  With its premiere fine art and music programs, robust language offerings and rigorous math and science curricula, Mesa ranks as San Diego’s top transfer institution.  The college also serves as an important economic catalyst for the region.  As a Title III and Title V eligible institution, Mesa College is committed to the success of all students, including underrepresented students and more than 1,000 veterans and their families.

As the second-largest of California’s 72 community college districts, the San Diego Community College District serves approximately 100,000 students annually through three two-year colleges and San Diego Continuing Education.  The three colleges, San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, and San Diego Miramar College, offer associate degrees and certificates in occupational programs that prepare students for transfer to four-year colleges and entry-level jobs. Beginning fall 2015, Mesa College will also offer baccalaureate degrees in the field of Health Information Management.

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