Whatcom Receives Grant From the National Science Foundation

Whatcom Community College was recently awarded a $686,975 grant from the National Science Foundation for a project that aims to improve course success rates, retain more students in STEM programs, and reduce equity gaps among engineering majors.

“Our goal is to help students see how they can make positive contributions in their local and global communities through a career in engineering, and to empower them with the skills and attitudes they’ll need to succeed at Whatcom and beyond,” said Eric Davishahl, WCC Engineering faculty and program coordinator in a press release.

The grant, titled, “Preparing Early Engineers through Context, Connections and Community,” cites the context of students from historically marginalized backgrounds disproportionately placing below college level in math skills and often lacking preparation for an engineering program – especially those who are low-income, students of color, or first-generation in college. The pandemic may have exacerbated this equity gap with effects lasting years.

A cross-discipline team of faculty members and senior personnel from four different academic departments at Whatcom Community College plans to rethink and redesign how students are welcomed into the engineering curriculum. Davishahl will serve as the grant’s principal investigator. According to the grant proposal, the goal is to empower students with skills to succeed at Whatcom and beyond.

“I believe interdisciplinary place-based courses — deeply rooted in the particularities of the Salish Sea while also providing a framework for equipping students to build meaningful connections to each other and the transboundary lands where they live — are the highest impact in terms of connecting content knowledge to civic engagement and making our college a destination location,” said Whatcom history adjunct faculty member Anna Booker in a press release.

Whatcom intends to develop a two-quarter, integrated learning pathway for engineering transfers. This sequence will feature a cross-disciplinary curriculum for 24 recruited students including engineering, math, physics, history, and English working together. Quarter one will combine courses in Introduction to Engineering, Pre-calculus for Engineers 1, and Pacific Northwest History and Culture. Quarter two will combine Introductory Design and Computing, Pre-calculus for Engineers 2, and English Composition. 

A 2016 article was published in the National Library of Medicine with similar messaging about historically marginalized students not being retained in STEM programs. “Improving Underrepresented Minority Student Persistence in STEM” states the United States’ inability to achieve STEM workforce diversity goals has long been ascribed to the failure of the academic “pipeline” to maintain a flow of underrepresented minority students.

STEM program by racial data
STEM program retention by racial data. Graphic courtesy of https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5008901/

“Everyone starts college with different preparation levels. This grant helps WCC faculty and services to address equity gaps to help ensure students persevere to graduation,” said Whatcom President Dr. Kathi Hiyane-Brown in a press release. 

According to the Whatcom press release, Davishahl said the program anticipates offering the new two-quarter course sequence to students starting in Fall 2023.

Anyone interested in the engineering transfer degree should contact Eric Davishahl at edavishahl@whatcom.edu.


Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that “students from historically marginalized backgrounds lack college-level math skills and general preparation for an engineering program”. This phrasing would imply that all students from such backgrounds would place below college-level in math skills which is incorrect. All digital copies of this article have been corrected as of June 7, 2022.

One thought on “Whatcom Receives Grant From the National Science Foundation

  1. This is a great opportunity! But It would be great if education wasn’t a issue of whether or not we could pay for it. Free public education enriches its people and the cost of education gatekeeps the poor working class?

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