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STEM Makes It Easier for Students to Graduate with AS and BS Degrees

June 13, 2013 -- CNM and UNM are working together to make it easier for students to graduate with associate and bachelor degrees in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
STEM Makes It Easier for Students to Graduate with AS and BS Degrees

Jul 16, 2015

Seamless is the goal, says Carolina Aguirre, director of STEM-UP (for Undergraduate Pathway), a CNM and UNM project.

“We have put together curriculum alignment that expedites the transfer process from CNM to UNM – making it possible for students to get their Associate of Science degree at CNM and then go directly to UNM to obtain their bachelor’s in a more direct manner,” Aguirre says.

STEM-UP started in 2011 when the two institutions were awarded a joint five-year $3.5 million Title V grant by the U.S. Department of Education. The grant’s purpose is to address a significant need in New Mexico and across the country for more graduates in the STEM fields. It also supports efforts to increase the numbers of Hispanic and low income students entering these areas.

In 2012 and early this year the two schools signed agreements in the areas of biology and engineering to align curriculum in an effort to increase the number of STEM graduates in New Mexico. UNM and CNM are expected to sign agreements this month in the fields of nutrition, chemistry and physics. On hold temporarily are math/statistics and earth and planetary sciences agreements, although work continues to align these programs at both UNM and CNM.

The two institutions have worked out curriculum in the STEM areas that direct students to the exact courses they need to take, and when, in order to obtain their associate and bachelor degrees. If the students take the courses as outlined, they will be able to finish their AS and BS degrees in as short a time as possible, eliminating enrollment in unnecessary classes. The lower division courses listed on the agreements are taken at CNM and have a direct equivalency to lower level course work offered at UNM.

But the program does more than align courses in the STEM fields. It also offers students transfer initiatives that include one-on-one counseling, a STEM-UP Center on CNM’s Main Campus where the students can meet with STEM-UP advisors, and other resources that haven’t been available in the past.

“Going from CNM to UNM is a big step. Classes are generally larger at UNM, tuition is higher and the school has a different personality. The change can be quite intimidating,” Aguirre says.

In order to help ease the transition, STEM-UP uses peer mentors – UNM STEM majors who previously attended CNM – to help the CNM students navigate UNM’s systems and facilities. The peer mentors listen to the challenges students are facing and help students  find  resources, such as tutoring, financial aid, academic and career advisements. They lead study and homework group sessions for the harder classes and help the CNM students become familiar with the UNM campus through “Walk Abouts,” field trips to the university. The students learn on these field trips where to park, building locations and what UNM faculty expect. They also have the opportunity to meet faculty and advisors from their soon-to-be college. The UNM peer mentors, who attend monthly professional development trainings, offer CNM STEM students tips on everything from how to submit their admissions application to financial aid availability.

“The peer mentors are there to share their transfer and UNM experience with the CNM students to make the move from community college to research university as easy as possible,” Aguirre says.

STEM-UP From a Student’s Perspective

Christopher Gleicher
A lot of resources, including various mentoring, tutoring and counseling programs at CNM and UNM, have led to chemical engineering student Christopher Gleicher’s academic success. On track to graduate from UNM next spring, he is now giving back by serving as a STEM UP peer mentor to students taking science, technology, engineering and math courses.

“I had a lot of help from people at CNM. The mentors and tutors were my lifeline. When I gained knowledge, I decided to turn around and help others,” Christopher said.

Christopher graduated from Freedom High School in Albuquerque and immediately went to work, not even considering college. When he met his future wife, he realized he needed to get serious about school and a good-paying job if he wanted to support a family.

He enrolled at CNM to pursue a degree in computer technology, figuring that would be an interesting and lucrative field.  He found his first couple of terms tough. He had to take a number of remedial classes to catch up, and he took advantage of the many available tutoring and mentoring programs.

After graduating with his associate degree, he was hired by Sprint where he worked for two- and-a-half years. He hurt his wrist working on computers eight hours a day and had surgery. That ended his career at the phone company.

After a brief stint selling real estate, he decided he wanted to be a chemical engineer and enrolled at UNM, going through Continuing Education. But money became an issue. He didn’t know how he was going to pay for school and support his growing family. At Continuing Ed he hooked up with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Because of his wrist injury, the division was able to help him with tuition. He was set for school.

Christopher says the transition from CNM to UNM was difficult. But like a teacher once told him, “Life is a game. If you play by the rules, you will succeed.”

Christopher sees going to school much the same way. And by following the rules and seeking help he’s maintained a 3.6-4.0 grade point average during his years at UNM. He found alternative resources – fellow students and professors.

Christopher says he encountered STEM-UP one day in the UNM library and soon became a peer mentor, helping other STEM students find their way.

“This is one way I can give back for everything that has been given to me,” Christopher says.