Santa Monica College (SMC) and UCLA have been awarded a $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help more underrepresented minority students enter into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The five-year Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Grant to SMC-UCLA was one of 34 such awards to California community colleges, all Hispanic-serving institutions, totaling $37 million statewide.

The grant is considered particularly important as the U.S. strives to be globally competitive in the science-related professions and as it seeks to improve the percentages of underrepresented minorities – in this case, Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans and women – in these fields, SMC officials said. Studies show that underrepresented minorities account for about 18 percent of the science and engineering baccalaureates awarded and represent about 28 percent of those in science and engineering occupations.

“Santa Monica College has an excellent transfer rate to such institutions as UCLA, and our science faculty is top-notch, but we’ve never had a concerted effort to move underrepresented minority students through our college into four-year institutions in the sciences,” SMC Director of Grants Laurie McQuay-Peninger said. “This grant will provide a golden opportunity to get these students excited about the sciences and math and into high-paying and prestigious careers.”

Funds will be used for a wide variety of strategies and activities to get students interested in science-related degrees and careers and guide them toward baccalaureate and graduate degrees.

Some of those strategies include recruiting students by raising awareness of the career opportunities in scientific fields; offering special counseling, workshops and lecture series for students; introducing students to formal research principles and providing opportunities for lab and field research, both at SMC and UCLA.

Other strategies include updating equipment and instruments to align with upper-division coursework; and offering summer bridge programs at UCLA through the Center for Community College Partnerships and the undergraduate UCLA Research Center.

McQuay-Peninger said SMC will develop a STEM Scholars Program that will enroll 100 students per year to serve as the focal point for those interested in the sciences.