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Texas Scholarship Program for Science and Math Majors

Responding to a national shortage, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded University of Texas Dallas, Collin College and Richland College nearly $2.5 million to graduate more students with science, technology, engineering and math, or (STEM) degrees. Acronyms are a critical part of academic planning, to wit: The grant has been named the STEM Talent Expansion Program or (STEP); it is attempting to reverse the trend of decreases in science and math degrees awarded in the U.S. in recent decades.

According to the National Academy of Sciences report Rising above the Gathering Storm (2007), "the proportion of bachelor's degrees in physics to total degrees awarded was twice as high the year before Sputnik [1957], deemed a time of dangerous educational neglect, as in 2004." The report emphasized the importance of increasing the number of students with STEM bachelor's degrees for the U.S. economy and global competitiveness.

The most important aspect of this program is the fact that will coordinate the academic coursework at both community colleges and the universities involved in order to make the transition seamless for science and math majors - which include engineering students. This accomplishment will come from a mix of course alignments, scholarships and coordinated academic advising. Applied science students from community colleges will have the opportunity to move into a hard science major after two years of college-level work.

"Our belief is through the use of robotics and sensor technology curriculum developed under the NSF Grant, the field of engineering can come alive for our students. Today's students need to become excited about the endless possibilities that a career in engineering and science can offer them." says Dave Galley, director of engineering at Collin College.

This appears to be an important first step in the utilization of community colleges for career studies that were once available only to those who could afford the traditional four year college experience. The notion of a physicist gaining a degree that began to develop in a community college is radical in its own way, and for some academic professionals, long overdue. The same can be true for students that choose online education as a point of departure and discover that they have the intellectual tools to work in engineering and research.

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