STEM Collaborative Center Closes Out 5-Year Grant

November 16, 2020 - Dorene DiNaro

STEMCCThe STEM Collaborative Center (STEMCC) which promotes collaboration between UNM departments, and develops STEM engagement opportunities for first and second year UNM students, recently closed out its five-year grant at The University of New Mexico. The Center’s director, Tim Schroeder, reflects on the mission, accomplishments, and lasting impacts STEMCC has at UNM.

“The idea behind the STEM Collaborative was to be a co-op and have conversations with people who are already doing STEM at UNM and figure out how we can help them access resources, access other partners, learn from each other, learn from these collaborations, and make what their work is stronger,” Schroeder says. 

A big part of the STEMCC’s collaborative work was building connections with partners at UNM and introducing innovative co-curricular ideas to help with increase STEM achievement rates, level diversity disparities, and gain better access to University data to provide accurate STEM-specific information.

STEM CC coordinated over 200 workshops, trips, and co-curricular activities where students could learn about a particular discipline, a particular technology or concept. “We served as a place where students could engage with STEM faculty and other researchers outside of the classroom,” Schroeder says. 

“We were able to provide introductory experiences that were low investment for the students,” he says. “They could just come for the weekend, or the day, or a workshop, without having to commit to a full class. This was a way for them to really dip their toes in and see if this is something they want to pursue as a degree,” Schroeder says.

Experiences included trips to the Very Large Array, Water Treatment Plant, the Trinity Site, Valles Caldera, the Grand Canyon, and others where students could connect with faculty on research being conducted there. Schroeder says that students who engaged in these programs were able to build strong academic friendships which is important in STEM, and often a determinant of whether a student finishes their degree.

“The experiences, if done right, are the spark,” Schroeder says. “The spark is easy, but the important thing is how faculty engage with students before or after to turn that spark into a fire.”

“STEM includes many different academic disciplines grouped together by a few main commonalities: shortages and a lack of diversity in the workforce.  That’s what the term STEM was created for,” Schroeder says. “It is a way of marshalling resources to help students persist and excel in primarily math-oriented degrees.”

With the growing demand for STEM jobs and the lack of diversity in the field, STEMCC set out to find ways to increase participation of students with diverse backgrounds in STEM fields. “We need to improve our ability to get more U.S. workers into math-intensive fields rather than relying on international visas to get people here,” Schroeder says.

Mentorships were set up with the Air Force Research Lab where students could have coffee and conversations with researchers on how they got there.  The mentorships were so successful that there were usually more students than mentors. 

The STEM Collaborative Center also focused on producing and analyzing STEM student success data.  During the course of the grant, the center produced an annual STEM Benchmark Report, and conducted over 100 major analysis projects. 

While the STEMCC grant was a non-renewable short-term project, the lasting impacts it had at the University will remain strong.

“Even though the grant is over, some pieces of it are still happening,” Schroeder says.  For example, the mentorship initiative is currently living in the Engineering Student Services Department. STEM CC also boasts the creation of an “activities” registration platform with UNM’s IT department that is currently being used by New Student Orientation.  

Schroeder now serves as the Operations Director the UNM President’s Grand Challenges Initiative which unites researchers, educators, students and community members in solving problems of critical importance to our state, our nation, and our world.  He also directs the NSF-funded UNM ECURE project, which built on the successes of the STEMMCC to support the expansion of undergraduate research pedagogy i