BOONE - Appalachian State University, in partnership Southwestern Community College, has been awarded a $1.4 million dollar grant by NASA to fund the Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative.
Leading the Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative is Matt Cass, Science Chair at Southwestern Community College. Cass, a graduate of Appalachian, is spearheading initiatives related to growing mathematics and science in the southwestern region of the state and, in particular, expanding the ability of community colleges to offer astronomy courses in order to develop more STEM majors. This project will ultimately lead to an increase in community awareness of NASA-developed science content and will improve student learning across grade levels of science and mathematics.
Appalachian will play a key role in this project by offering a series of graduate courses designed to prepare faculty in community colleges for teaching astronomy, and will also provide summer research experiences for community college students in mathematics and physics.
Michael Briley, PI on Appalachian activities, reports that "The Physics and Astronomy Department is delighted to provide research experiences for these students. With some of the best astronomical facilities in North Carolina, students will work on topics ranging from instrument development, to understanding what the Sun was like when it was young, to searching for stars that have sucked off coverings of neighboring stars. Through these projects, students will have the opportunity to take what they've learned in the classroom and apply it to the universe around us."
Community college students will be mentored by Dr. René Salinas, Department of Mathematical Sciences, in selecting research projects and faculty facilitators, preparing their research for presentation, and adapting to the professional contexts of the STEM fields. Outreach to students also includes summer visits by middle and high school students, allowing Appalachian to connect with school districts in the southwestern part of the state.
Dean Tony Calamai offers his support for the project, explaining, "Appalachian State University is excited about this opportunity to partner with Southwestern Community College to successfully develop more STEM majors from a population that has been overlooked for far too long. We're also very pleased to closely collaborate with our community college partners, many of whom are alumnae of Appalachian State University. A great example of which is this grant-program's principal investigator, Mr. Matt Cass."
The Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative leadership includes PI Matt Cass, Vance Waggener, and Tracie McLemore Salinas of Appalachian State University. Additional partners are
Jackson, Macon, and Swain County Schools, Cherokee Central Schools, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NASA Marshall Space Center, and Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.