UC Merced opens ‘math and science clinic’ on campus

10/08/2013 6:11 PM

10/08/2013 11:44 PM

New to UC Merced is a center designed to help students in classes that can give some a mental meltdown.

The Science Technology Engineering Math resource center is a haven for students in biological engineering, physics, applied math and many more of the university’s most difficult courses.

On a campus that is growing with multi-story buildings, the STEM center – located in a classroom annex building near the north end of campus –may not look impressive. But the work going on inside is no joke.

“The natural sciences classes are not easy classes,” said Kristine Renna, 21, a human biology major from Simi Valley.

Renna, who tutors in the center, said classes in the STEM areas are building blocks as students work their way toward graduation.

She is one of many students studying math, science and engineering at UC Merced. A little more than half of the students on campus have a major that fits into the STEM fields, according to the last census.

Phung Colvin, a coordinator for the math science program Excel!, said the center is both a study hall and a quiet place to work.

“We call it a math and science clinic,” Colvin said.

UC Merced has a traditional tutoring center aimed at students who are looking for help in general studies, Colvin said, while the STEM center has the added target of higher level math, engineering and science courses.

STEM courses are particularly popular at the youngest campus in the University of California system. Three of the campus’ top five most popular majors fit into the STEM field – biology, computer science engineering and chemistry. The other two popular majors are psychology and management.

Petia Gueorguieva, the STEM center coordinator, said the center started helping students in June but the classroom opened in late September.

The center is also the go-to for students who want to be in a club or extra-curricular activity. There are about 100 clubs or groups related to science and math, according to administrators.

While the room does not have access to any tools or equipment that students couldn’t find in other locations, Gueorguieva said, it does provide access to another resource. “The people, definitely,” she said. “They study (and) communicate with people with the exact same interests.”

E. Dan Hirleman, dean of UC Merced’s school of engineering, said the center is a way to help the school increase its retention rates in majors where many colleges struggle to keep students.

UC Merced’s focus on engineering has a lot to do with the students it attracts, Hirleman said, which fits into President Barack Obama’s call for 10,000 new engineers every year.

“These are very challenging majors,” he said. “So the earlier we can help them to understand what it is to be an engineer or scientist, and how rewarding that career can be, the more motivated they are to succeed.”

Hirleman said UC Merced undergraduates – of which 37percent are from the Central Valley and 62percent are first-generation college students – are working their way into well-paying jobs.

“We think they’re the type that really want to find a way to give back to their communities,” he said.

Mechanical engineering major Kyle Chism, a 21-year-old from Ojai, a city just east of Santa Barbara, said he was thinking about his wallet, among other things, when he perused majors.

“Going to college, I knew if I was going to put in the time I wanted to get paid well afterwards,” Chism said.

Also a tutor, Chism said his role with the center includes advising his peers about ways to find research opportunities, which are commonly needed by undergraduates in the STEM fields.

Hirleman said research and internships are the best way for most STEM students to hit the ground running in the workplace.

Hirleman said UC Merced is perhaps uniquely tied to the success of its region, the Central Valley. The next step is giving graduates a reason to stick around, he said.

“When we look at what is going to raise all the boats together, it’s high-value, high-paying jobs and so that’s why we’re focused on this,” he said. “It’s part of our commitment to the region.”

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