St. Louis Community College programs to develop talent for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been named a finalist for a 2015 Bellwether Award.
STLCC’s entry, “Bridging the Gap in STEM Education,” is a finalist in the Planning, Governance & Finance category. To be considered in this category, programs or activities must have been designed and successfully implemented to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the community college.
The STLCC Center for Plant and Life Sciences, the Contract Research Organization (CRO) within the center, and the Life Science Lab Assistant program, also housed there, were chosen for the innovative ways they train students for careers in the life sciences, while simultaneously assisting in building the biosciences industry within the St. Louis region. The selection was based on the college’s decision to locate the center within the Bio-Research, Development and Growth (BRDG) Park, on the campus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the CRO’s innovative ways of working with small start-up companies in the bio-sciences, and the ability to provide a pathway to job opportunities within the region’s growing industry for students who begin with some academic challenges that they need to overcome to be successful.
The Community College Futures Assembly announced STLCC as one of 10 community college programs (each from three categories) as finalists to compete for the 2015 Bellwether Awards. The assembly had issued a call for Bellwether Award nominations in fall 2014, and 30 finalist colleges in three categories were competitively chosen from the applicants. There were more than 1,000 nominees, from which the finalists were ultimately selected. The other categories are Instructional Programs and Services, and Workforce Development.
All finalists will present at the Community College Futures Assembly Jan. 26 in Orlando, Fla., and one winner will then be selected from each category by a panel of national experts within each category. The winners will be announced Jan. 27.
STLCC program presenters will be Richard Norris, Ph.D., director of the Center for Plant and Life Sciences; Betsy Boedeker, senior research scientist at the center; and Scott Gevaert, Ph.D., biology instructor and coordinator of the Life Science Lab Assistant program.
STLCC’s CRO, housed in the Bio-Research Development and Growth (BRDG) Park at the Danforth Center for Plant and Life Sciences, collaborates with small start-up companies to assist with research needs by giving them access to cutting edge equipment within the center, but more importantly, by supplying them skilled hands at the bench in the form of interns that need the experience working in a real industry situation. In addition to offering an excellent training experience, opportunities for employment with many of these growing companies exist and students have gone straight from an internship to full-time employment.
Of the 56 interns that have been placed by the CRO to date, 36 interned with at least one start-up company, and 13 are known to have found employment full-time at a start-up company within BRDG Park.
The Life Science Lab Assistant program emphasizes mastery of laboratory techniques in three biology lab courses, so graduates can begin working immediately, without requiring additional training upon employment. It combines developmental education with college-level courses, provides educational and career support, and uses a “learning community” approach. Students attend classes as a cohort from start to finish, receive tutoring from current students in the biotechnology degree program, and engage in enrichment and professional development opportunities, such as resume building, cover letter writing and networking with local life science companies.
Of the 20 students who have graduated in the three program cohorts since 2012, 12 are employed part or full time in a bioscience career. Of these 12, eight are also working on an associate degree, five in the biotechnology program. Another five program graduates are working on degrees in other life science disciplines, and a sixth has started a bachelor’s degree in biology.
The Community College Futures Assembly, celebrating its 21st anniversary this year, convenes annually as an independent national policy forum for key opinion leaders to serve as a think tank in identifying critical issues facing the future of community colleges, and to recognize Bellwether finalist colleges as trend-setting institutions.