STEM Students

Northern New Mexico College students Cheik Maiga (in the background), Lynette Baca (pointing), Abigail Lopez and Daniel Vigil working together on a class assignment. In between Lynette and Abigail is Dr. Ashis Nandy, professor of Fluid Mechanics. Baca and Vigil recently graduated with bachelor's degrees from the Electromechanical Engineering Technology program. 

Northern New Mexico College was awarded a $5 million grant for its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program from the U.S. Department of Education. The award was announced at its Sept. 24 Board meeting. 

The funding will help low-income and Hispanic students become more involved and interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, hopefully encouraging them to pursue degrees in these fields.

According to a recent report from the Student Research Foundation, only 8 percent of working STEM professionals are Hispanic. 

“We started working on this grant in November of last year,” Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Ivan Lopez said. “And we eventually submitted the grant at the end of the May. We knew there was going to be competition.”

But Lopez said he had a good feeling, as Northern had received similar grants in the last several years. 

“Grants go through a peer review process, so there’s always a random element,” he said. “But you have a feeling. I was very optimistic when we submitted the proposal.”

Technically, this is the second largest grant the college has ever received. A year ago, the college received a larger grant of around $6 million, but the funds were shared among 40 different colleges, so Northern only received a small portion of it.

Lopez learned of the good news in early January. 

“The ultimate goal is to get more students into STEM degrees and to graduate these students,” he said. “That’s the overall goal.”

Lopez said that between 70 and 75 percent of the college’s students are Hispanic, which means the grant will benefit the majority of the student population. Last semester, the school had a total of 195 students working toward a STEM degree: 76 students of engineering, 116 students of biology and environmental studies and three math students. The majority of these students attend classes at the Española campus. 

During Northern’s Sept. 24 Board meeting, President Rick Bailey congratulated Lopez and his efforts, saying, “He’s very humble, so I’m going to brag about him. He’s been working on this day and night.”

Lopez said they will use the money to revamp classrooms and bring in state-of-the-art technology to help students learn. Social workers will also be brought in to work with STEM students. 

“One of the physical projects will be on our new math skills lab,” he said. “This grant will help with the design and some of the equipment that’s going into the lab.”

He said that many of the students, especially those who are low-income, face off-campus challenges that lead to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. This is where the social workers will step in and help. By addressing mental health issues, they’ll be able to spend more time focusing on classwork and their futures. 

“We also serve a lot of first generation students and a lot of students who struggle financially speaking,” Lopez said. “That’s the nature of the community where we are located. If we want students to succeed, we need to address the issues they are facing at home, like being hungry or not having access to the Internet.”

Lopez said they don’t know who else applied for the grant, but they do know that everyone who is considered for these types of grants is “highly qualified.” 

“Over the last five years, Northern’s relationship with the U.S. Department of Education has been outstanding,” Lopez said. “And we are incredibly grateful for the trust they’ve put in us, and we’re excited because the best of this experience is yet to come.” 

Bailey said that while this grant is geared toward a specific demographic, it will benefit all of the students. 

“The grant was highly competitive, across the country,” he said. “And we are incredibly thrilled to have been selected from what we know were strong applications.” 

Construction and the new resources for STEM students will be implemented and well underway within the next six months.

“I’m excited about the future of this,” Bailey said. “And that’s saying a lot, because we’ve had some pretty good days.”

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