WHITTIER – Río Hondo College will launch an intensive program to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field studies for students, including scientific research experiences for Río Hondo students, thanks to a $2.8 million, five-year Department of Education Title V grant.

The Title V grant announced Sept. 3, is the latest in a series of STEM-focused grants secured by the College to support its largely Hispanic student population. Other recent STEM-focused funding from the Department of Education include a $1.3 million TRiO-STEM grant and a $1 million National Science Foundation S-STEM grant that have strengthened the College’s STEM instructional program.

The new Title V grant will fund Enlace, a pilot student success program that will provide services to all enrolled STEM students with a focus on low-income, first generation, Hispanic students. Fields of study include biology, chemistry, computer information technology, computer science, engineering, environmental science, math and physics.

More than 56% of Río Hondo students are high-need, low-income, first-generation college students. More than 80.25 percent are Hispanic. Enlace is Spanish for weave.

“The Enlace program will provide a tremendous boost to our already strong STEM programs,” Acting Superintendent/President Teresa Dreyfuss said. “We are positioned to provide our students with unheralded and unprecedented STEM research and workforce experience opportunities.”

For example, the program fills a gap in community college instruction for student independent research opportunities, which are typically more prevalent at four-year colleges and universities.

Río Hondo College will partner with Oak Crest Institute of Science, LA Bioscience Hub and the UCLA/RHC Scientific Exchange Program to provide real-world science research and lab experience starting in the second summer of STEM students’ education program.

“These partnerships will provide rigorous academic laboratory programs that allow community college students to learn to solve real-world problems while participating in important environmental and biomedical research,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Laura Ramirez said.

Enlace will provide innovative advising and support structures to create enriching academic opportunities that foster STEM success. These include a STEM Early Summer program that will offer an academically focused head start to first-year students; a Discover STEM Conference that will introduce students to emerging technologies; a STEM Student Success Team to support students with counseling and other academic support; and a STEM Leadership Academy with a financial literacy component; work experiences, internships and research opportunities; and faculty professional development.

“Equal in importance to the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom is the relationship that is created between the student and the mentor,” said Dr. Vann Priest, dean of mathematics, sciences and engineering. “All scientists and engineers can point to one person and say that’s the person who turned me from a student into a professional. Our partners can provide that opportunity.”

Río Hondo College chemistry student Lucia Cabrales, who has participated in the UCLA/RHC Scientific Exchange program, called the experience “unique and motivating.”

“I have had the honor of working alongside a wonderful research group. They’ve been very welcoming and knowledgeable. I’ve learned new lab techniques, met many brilliant people and made lifelong friends,” Cabrales said. “There’s a real difference between working in a research group and working solely in a classroom setting. Everyone is so motivated and enthusiastic to reach a common goal.”

As part of the Enlace program, the College also will generate an annual State of STEM Report to maximize the impact of STEM program strategies and inform College policy decisions. The State of STEM Report will be presented to the president and Board of Trustees and made available on the Río Hondo College website.

Ultimately, The Enlace program will be scaled campus-wide as part of Río Hondo College’s Guided Pathways framework, which guides students through their academic goals toward careers and four-year universities. The College already partners with area employees to help guide students to gainful employment, including STEM. Río Hondo is in the state’s second largest workforce area, and STEM fields are in high demand. At the institutional level, Enlace will improve Río Hondo College by creating stronger linkages between faculty-led academic departments and staff-led student and academic support programs, and by creating a model for improved efficiency.

College leaders say Río Hondo College, a Hispanic-Serving Institution, is positioned to lead in addressing state and national STEM education needs and workforce diversification. The College’s student population mirrors the state’s socio-economic diversity. The College’s STEM program is recognized nationally by Excelencia in Education, an organization that accelerates Latinx student success in the workforce and the economy.