New STEM Activities Coordinator Is Making Studying for Tough Classes Easier

October 1, 2014 -- “Graduate! Graduate! Graduate!” is the mantra CNM President Kathie Winograd often uses as she encourages students to finish their associate degrees and certificates at CNM.
New STEM Activities Coordinator Is Making Studying for Tough Classes Easier

Jul 17, 2015

Heather Fitzgerald, CNM’s new School of Math, Science & Engineering STEM activities coordinator, has taken that guidance to heart as she works with student clubs, advisors, faculty, tutors and achievement coaches to make it happen.

The seven-year CNM biology instructor was named to the new position in August by MSE Dean John Cornish to help improve graduation rates, “which are too low,” he said. She’ll be spending the year, not teaching, but devoting her time to this endeavor.

Fitzgerald is working to increase retention and graduation rates on several fronts. First, she is trying to make sure students know about all of the resources available to them. From tutors to achievement coaches to advisors, she is making sure STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students are aware of where they can turn for help. There are currently some 4,000 dedicated STEM majors in biology and engineering and another 2,000 in pre-health sciences.

She recently made available to all STEM students flyers that promoted specific days when math tutors would be on hand. For example, peer mentors from the STEM UP (STEM Undergraduate Pathways) program and CNM math instructors, such as Alex Acuna, are available to tutor students on Fridays from 8-11 a.m. in the Student Resource Center, Room 203, on Main Campus; and Math League peer tutoring is available on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. in the JS Building, Room 303 and 306 on Main Campus. All CNM students are invited to drop in for help from peers who have taken the courses.

“The resources are available,” she said. “We just need to make sure the students are aware and use them.”

Second, Fitzgerald wants to increase internship opportunities for CNM STEM students so they can see that the science they are studying has real-world use. Intern possibilities exist at places like Sandia National Laboratories, Air Force Research Lab and with local companies. She’s getting together with the appropriate company officials to begin making arrangements.

Over the years, CNM has developed a relationship with New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation (NM-AMP), through a grant funded by the National Science Foundation. The NM-AMP SCCORE program allows community college students to spend a month in the summer doing research at a four-year university of their choice. At the end of the four weeks, they attend a conference where they present posters and participate in workshops. This year, for the first time, CNM students did their research at UNM instead of just at New Mexico State University. Fitzgerald is the CNM coordinator for this program so interested students should contact her for information about the Summer 2015 SCCORE program.

A third prong to Fitzgerald’s retention/graduation efforts is to offer a series of interesting science events to include community activities, seminars and science-themed events. The first of these activities is a seminar series developed with new biology full-time faculty member Terri Koontz. This series, called “STEMinars,” will show how STEM courses relate to careers. The first, held Sept. 26, delved into the microbiology and chemistry of brewing beer. The second, to be held on Halloween, Oct. 31, will deal with the day in the life of a medical investigator, with appropriately macabre examples.

“We hope that by quelling students’ fears of STEM courses through tutoring, helping them to find their resources and making them excited about science through fun but meaningful seminars and events, students will stay at CNM and graduate and then transition to UNM or another four-year college to obtain a bachelor’s degree,” Fitzgerald said.