By Bill Knief
For a small, rural, underserved community to have its own community college has many obvious advantages. Non–traditional students who can’t afford to leave home can still improve work skills and expand their horizons while holding down a job or two and tending to multigenerational family responsibilities. Two year colleges have substantial payrolls for full time faculty, staff and part time adjunct instructors. They offer reasonably priced training for the workforce of tomorrow and create career paths which would otherwise be out of reach for most citizens.
One less obvious but equally important advantage is that a rural college can attract grants for educational programs that would otherwise be impossible for a small town to attain.
A perfect example of this is the federal Upward Bound Math and Science program scheduled to launch this summer for 60 local high school students.
Under the leadership of grants director David Trujillo, UNM-Taos was recently able to qualify for the program, which is designed to help first generation and/or low income students become better prepared for college. The only other program of its kind in the state is at New Mexico Tech.
“We want to make sure students’ dreams don’t evaporate,” explained Andy Leonard, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum coordinator and advisor. “We emphasize math and science because research has shown that students who are fully prepared in those areas can excel in anything, no matter what they major in later on. So our job is to get students excited about science. The National Resource Council predicts that at least 70 percent of future jobs will involve some degree of STEM capability, so we really emphasize the math and science through project-based learning. It is a highly successful program. We still have a few openings, and I hope that people will call us at 575 737-6281. It’s free on a first come, first served basis, and the only requirement is either that you be the first person in your family to go to college or that you are a low income student.”
Leonard said that the six weeks summer program begins June 4 with a picnic on the Klauer Campus for students and parents, and ramps up on July 1st with the first of the field trips held every Monday. The rest of the week is taken up researching what the class learned on the field trip and then putting their findings into a portfolio.
“The first week we are going to go out and survey the Rio Don Fernando,” he said. “That’s our adopted area, and we will be working closely with the Forest Service in an effort to reclaim that area and bring it back to its natural state, but at the same time make it available to the public in terms of trail heads and campgrounds. That’s the project-based component, and we work to connect students with experts in their fields.
“So first we observe our adopted area, and then put together a plan as to what kind of quantitative research we are going to do the next week. Then we collect data and figure out what we need to do. We go out and do the research, do the math, the biology, do the environmental science, look at the scientific terms using Latin and Greek, read about the area, learn how to write and then jigsaw it all together.”
Leonard said that the whole program revolves around making science fun, and stimulating the students’ curiosity.
“Math is the language of science, and what makes math so difficult for most students is that we’ve isolated it, and that’s what creates an abstraction that few students understand.” By contrast, the Upward Bound Science and Math program’s record of success is based on experiential learning and one-on-one support. The 60 student cohort is tracked all the way through college, and Leonard maintained that the program also provides for tours of colleges and exploration of a range of career and college options, along with after school tutoring twice a week during the school year.
“In the world of education, we all know that individual counseling and tutoring is the only thing that really works, particularly in tough subjects like science and math. What we offer here at UNM-Taos is something very unique in supporting those kids that really want to fly in a particular area.”
The project staff includes Randy Larry, Project Director, and Andy Leonard and Mike Musialowski, STEM Curriculum Coordinators and Advisors, along with a program assistant, administrative assistant, four Summer Assistants and five Tutors. They can be reached at 575 737-3725 at their offices in El Pueblo Hall, 114 Civic Plaza Drive.