Grant awarded to inspire STEM interest for Latino students

In Campus News, News
Student researchers Jessica Valadez and Vinod Valluri cut a DNA plasmid as part of the cloning process for their research work in the science lab. Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton
Student researchers Jessica Valadez and Vinod Valluri cut a DNA plasmid as part of the cloning process for their research work in the science lab.
Courtesy of Cal State Fullerton

The grant will fund research and development towards advancing success of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) for junior high students in Orange county who have been fully immersed in an English-Spanish dual language program.

The three year project, titled “Transforming Academic and Cultural Identidad through Biliteracy,” began Sept. 15 and focuses on bilingual Hispanics entering the seventh and eighth grade.

This project plans to collect data on students in dual language programs, which are taught in both English and Spanish, in the Anaheim City School District.

It will build on the bilinguality of the students to see if the program can enhance the interest and familiarity of math and science by collaborating cultural identity, integrating after-school activities and, most importantly, include the influence of their parents.

“The data shows that our schools are not doing as well as we could in terms of serving our Latino students. Especially in the area of science and mathematics. We see achievement is not that strong, and yet we know the potential is there,” Mark Ellis, Ph.d., associate professor of secondary education, said.

The project will interview parents about their everyday actions, from home life to work life in order to gain a better understanding of the home life of students and relate it to current and future curriculum.

Armando Martinez-Cruz, a Cal State Fullerton mathematics professor and co-principal investigator, said parents don’t know how to help kids with new school standards.

Based on the idea of involving the parents, dual language and cultural identities, Martinez-Cruz said the project will create a sense of “Identidad,” which will influence activities and ideas that teachers can incorporate into courses.

Along with guidance of “Identidad,” the Discovery Science Center is also contributing by sponsoring after-school programs that will support hands on activities and discourse.

Ellis, principal investigator on the project, said the success of this venture could lead into possible implementations into other schools within the district and then hopefully into high schools.

The U.S. government invests about $3 billion a year in STEM projects in order to compete with other nations. According to the Department of Education’s website, STEM job growth is expected to rise 33.6 percent by 2020.

Michael Matsuda, Teacher Support and Professional Development of Anaheim Union High School District, said there will be jobs and opportunities in STEM and believes these subjects need to be implemented in elementary grades and that it is a concern that Latinos are not majoring in these areas.

According to a report released by the White House, while the Hispanic population grew 37 percent in the last census, just 2.2 percent of Hispanics earn a first university degree in the natural science or engineering by the age of 24.

CSUF is in the process of trying to change these figures and establish a better educational and/or occupational future for the Latino communities.

The CSUF project is currently recruiting four students, juniors or seniors, who plan on becoming teachers of either multiple subjects with a math or science emphasis, or single subject math or science secondary education teachers.

They are offering a two-year, $5,000 a year fellowship to work with the teachers and also be paid for working with the Discovery Science Center after-school programs.

“The students have the abilities, they just need somebody to polish them, they have a little dust on them, and they need someone to get that dust out of the way,” Martinez-Cruz said.

Collaborating together on this project along with Ellis and Martinez-Cruz are co-principal investigators; CSUF mathematics professor, Sam Behseta, CSUF assistant professor of secondary education, Natalie Tran, coordinator, Michael Matsuda, six teachers from the elementary district and six teachers from the high school district.

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