Breaking down barriers: College continues to make STEM tangible

07.02.2014 | By Andrea Vasquez

While the need for improved STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education continues to headline national education platforms, San Jacinto College is not only creating a STEM pipeline for its students, but also for the next generation of successful STEM professionals.

Numerous national studies show that most loss of interest in STEM occurs among middle school-age students. With minorities and women being underrepresented in STEM careers, young girls are still succumbing to stereotypes that create barriers that affect STEM education and future career planning. In the recent report, “Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” by The Girl Scout Research Institute, 47 percent of the girls surveyed said they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a STEM-focused group or class.  The study also reports that 57 percent don’t even consider a STEM career, and the same percentage believe if they were in a STEM career, they’d have to work harder than a man to be taken seriously.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that workers employed in STEM fields earn up to 70 percent more than workers in other fields. According to the National Math + Science Initiative, 92 percent of all U.S. STEM jobs will require postsecondary education by 2018. Yet, 54 percent of high school graduates aren’t ready for college-level math, and 38 percent of students who start a STEM major do not finish it. Students are missing out on great career opportunities either because they simply are not prepared, or they focus on irrelevant, incorrect stigmas associated with these careers.

San Jacinto College is making strides within the STEM realm, starting with its students and the community. This Fall, the College formed a STEM Council with a mission to increase awareness of STEM education and career opportunities by sponsoring activities open to the public, promoting STEM fields to K-12 students, and forming partnerships with universities and industries for workforce training and education. The College also holds a number of STEM-focused events throughout the year including Engineering Day, where students have the opportunity to meet university representatives from engineering programs across Texas; robotics competitions for middle school students that pair teams with San Jacinto College student mentors; the NASA Microgravity Project; visits from STEM professionals, like Fred Haise, former Apollo 13 astronaut; Tech Fridays, a collaborative initiative between the College and the University of Houston - Clear Lake, designed to engage students in computer programing, working with robotics, and other math-intensive tasks; and participation in community events, like the Family Earth Science Festival at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The San Jacinto College Aerospace Academy has also partnered with NASA for more than 10 years, bringing STEM education to middle school through its annual underwater robotics program.

“The high-tech workforce demands of the 21st century, coupled with the shortage of individuals entering STEM careers today, make it imperative that San Jacinto College continue to enhance our strategic relationship with NASA and other STEM industry partners,” said Dr. Brenda Jones, San Jacinto College provost. “We fully understand the importance of incorporating STEM content into our curricula and course offerings, as well as increasing the number of students that obtain employment in a STEM career or transfer into four-year institutions as STEM majors to help decrease, or even eliminate, the shortage.”

This April, the College partnered with NASA once again to host its annual NASA Space Science Day. A community night kicked off the event where families were invited to take part in some of the NASA activities their children would be participate in. Guest speaker, Dr. Susan Lederer, NASA/JSC optical measurements lead scientist, presented some of her research on comet and asteroid collisions.

The following day, approximately 200 local middle school students were given a look into space exploration with hands-on NASA activities, including a portable planetarium, meteor and lunar rock samples, a Mars Rover landing video game, create your own comet station, astronaut space suits to try on, and others. Dr. Aaron Burton, NASA/JSC organic geochemist and astrobiologist, explained what meteorites can tell us about space and showed actual meteorite samples. San Jacinto College students served as activity coordinators for educational experiments, which included lunar mapping, making volcanoes, and learning the scientific method. All these activities culminated into breaking into teams to plan a robotic mission to space, with students choosing the winning mission design.

“NASA Space Science Day (NSSD) is a multi-tiered STEM program targeted towards students at the pre-college, undergraduate, and graduate levels,” said Angela Green-Garcia, San Jacinto College geology professor and this year’s event coordinator. “Our partnership with NASA bridges the link between academia and the professional world. Students have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they are gaining to the working world. If we help students realize their potential and keep that enthusiasm going, they have a better chance of completing their degree. Student success is San Jacinto College's primary goal, and our commitment to programs such as NASA Space Science Day only reinforces it.”

Providing these hands-on STEM activities keeps young students engaged and builds bridges rather than barriers to a fulfilling, successful career.

Pictured: Students from Raul Yzaguirre School for Success Primary Academy in Houston enjoyed the hands-on learning activities during the 2014 NASA Space Science Day hosted at the San Jacinto College South Campus. Pictured left to right: Christopher Lucio, Aaron Rivera, Lizbeth Rivera, and David Ramirez. Photo credit: Andrea Vasquez, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.


About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 credit students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career and workforce preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit, or follow us on Facebook.