SAC receives NSF grant to support Campeones de STEM

October 25, 2022

Russell Guerrero - Strategic Communications Coordinator

Two science professors have created a new initiative that will have San Antonio College students mentor seventh-graders on topics related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Called Campeones de STEM, the program is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is part of the NSF’s mission to bolster undergraduate STEM education at Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Dr Jianxia Zhang, chemistry, is the principal investigator for the grant, and Dr. Deana Apple, biology, is the co-principal investigator. They are currently recruiting first-semester STEM students at SAC to join the program which will call for a two-year commitment.

According to both professors, Campeones de STEM was created, in part, to provide a needed touch-point to introduce middle school students to the sciences.

Zhang said the program will help broaden seventh grade students’ knowledge of the STEM fields. “If they get into contact with us, it will become easier to get them interested in STEM,” she said.

“We will be working closely with the middle school teachers to offer strategies for improving STEM literacy in their classrooms, while meeting their goals for educators in Texas,” said Apple, who added that the program will also give students and teachers a better understanding of the resources provided by SAC.

The professors also believe the program could create a pipeline between high caliber middle school students and SAC’s natural sciences programs.

In addition, Campeones de STEM will provide benefits to college students who join the program. By sharing their pathways with middle school students, SAC students may get a clearer picture to their eventual path. Both Zhang and Apple also want to use Campeones de STEM to enhance and improve relationships with STEM employers to bolster career opportunities for SAC graduates.

And the NSF grant will be used to jump start SAC students participation in the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). The campus chapter went dormant during the pandemic and will apply for reinstatement in the spring. Funds from the grant will be used to pay dues for students interested in joining the national organization.

Students who become members of SACNAS will be eligible to attend STEM conferences held annually in either Hawaii or Puerto Rico and the Campeones de STEM program will pay expenses related to traveling and attending the meetings.

The first big event organized for Campeones de STEM will be a two-day conference planned for November. Zhang and Apple plan to invite professionals in various STEM fields to meet with SAC students. At the end of the conference, the professors will announce the first cohort of students selected for the program.

By mentoring with middle school students and networking with local professionals, Zhang and Apple believe the SAC students in the Campeones de STEM program will be primed for success once they leave the campus.

“That’s our goal.  To get them either into a four-year college so they can finish their bachelors or get them into programs where they can get a job. We want to see a paycheck in their bank account’” said Apple. “That’s going to be our payday.”