Engineering research entices community college students to pursue STEM careers
Seventy percent of California’s community college students neither earn a two-year associate degree nor transfer to a four-year university after six years, according to a comprehensive study conducted by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento.
In an effort to improve the transfer rate from community colleges to four-year institutions, a program called Transfer-to-Excellence Research Experiences for Undergraduates (TTE REU) offers California community college students an opportunity to work alongside UC Berkeley researchers. For nine weeks every summer, 15 students join labs on campus to prepare them to transfer to a four-year university and ultimately complete a bachelor’s degree in science and engineering.
In addition to research, the students also participate in seminars that prepare them for careers in science and engineering, receive advising and support to help with their transfer to a four-year university and go on field trips that expose them to different opportunities, from internships to careers, in a variety of areas in engineering and science.
“In the six years that the TTE REU program has been running, we have achieved a 93 percent transfer rate to a four-year school to major in a STEM degree,” said Nicole McIntyre, associate director of education at the Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science (E3S), who heads the program. E3S is administratively headquartered at UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering.
She adds that the majority of these students have transferred to a University of California campus and many students choose to attend UC Berkeley.
“I did this program in 2017 before I transferred from community college, and I think this is one of the best things that I’ve done,” said Kimberly Ferry, now a fourth-year bioengineering major at UC Berkeley. “As a community college student, it’s hard to feel like you are in a real college. TTE helped me to feel like I belong here and that I can do this.”
Ferry notes that she didn’t get much exposure to science when she was in high school, nor was she encouraged to seek out opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). After graduating high school, she entered Napa Valley College thinking that she wanted to be a graphic designer. But upon taking her first chemistry class, she realized that she loved science and had an aptitude for it. She then proceeded to take every science and engineering class that she could.
“I think the most useful part of TTE and coming to UC Berkeley was being a part of research and getting some kind of experience in the field that I wanted to be in — bioengineering,” said Ferry. “This program allowed me to experience bioengineering for the first time, it solidified that this was something I wanted to do, and I loved every second of my time doing it.”
“I’m really interested in the dynamics and design of cars, as well as energy, and when you mix those two interests together, you get designing sustainable vehicles at a company like TESLA. That’s what I want to do,” said Martinez.
For Cesar Martinez, a first-generation student at Cabrillo College, the TTE program solidified his interest in transferring to UC Berkeley and majoring in mechanical engineering. Martinez knew that he wanted to pursue a career in engineering once he started taking higher-level math classes in high school.
“After high school, I felt like I wasn’t prepared to leave my house and go out on my own. So, I decided to go to community college, and I feel like it prepared me much more to transfer to a four-year university than my high school did. I think what really excited me about this program was getting the college and research experience. We live in dorms on campus and get to work in UC Berkeley laboratories. This place already feels like home,” Martinez adds.
This program is jointly funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health and Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science.