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Santa Monica College Chemistry "Boot Camp" Wins Statewide Diversity Award
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

July 21, 2016 -- A Santa Monica College (SMC) Saturday “boot camp” aimed at Latino and African American students struggling in Chemistry is one of three winners of a statewide award for helping under-achieving students in California community colleges, officials said.

Photo: Santa Monica College receives  Rice Award
California Community Colleges Interim Chancellor Erik E. Skinner (right) presents a Dr. John W. Rice Diversity & Equity Award to SMC Chemistry Professors Dr. Roman Ferede and Muriel Walker Waugh, student Diego Villegas and SMC Associate Dean of Student Equity & STEM Dr. Melanie Bocanegra. (Photo Courtesy of SMC)

The faculty-led workshops -- which started on a shoe-string budget in 2014 and quickly boomed as test scores jumped -- received the Dr. John W. Rice Diversity and Equity Award at ceremonies in Sacramento on Tuesday.

Both the Chemistry professor who started the boot camps, Muriel Walker Waugh, and SMC Superintendent/President Kathryn E. Jeffrey said they were honored by the recognition.

“This is possible because of the dedication and commitment of the faculty, staff, and students involved,” Jeffrey said in a statement after the event at the Crocker Art Museum.

“We look forward to continuing the important work of helping all SMC students fulfill their higher education and life dreams. And we will continue looking for ways to decrease disparity in achievement."

Waugh recalled how the morning-through-afternoon workshops grew from about 15 SMC students in the fall of 2014 to 82 students by this spring.

“I’m very proud,” she told the Lookout Wednesday. “They (the students) really needed help. Our Boot Camps are an intense but fun experience for our students."

A report last August by SMC found that of the 40 students then in the workshops, almost 68 percent boosted their test scores in their introductory chemistry classes enough to match the average 2.50 GPAs of 795 students also in those classes -- a huge jump from the GPAs of 1.76 of struggling students not getting the extra help.

Students involved with Adelante, a support group for Latinos, and Black Collegians, for African Americans, “had a higher success rate and GPA” than earlier counter parts, the study said.

Half of the students in the study were Hispanic and there were more females than males, according to the study. Eight were African American, three were Asians and seven were white.

The workshops begin with a pre-assessment of concepts and includes instruction and collaborative projects, she said. It ends with a post-assessment to measure the students' progress.

“I am just grateful to God that they have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives through Chemistry," Waugh said. "When I see all our STEM students who have moved on to success, it just moves me beyond words.”

Waugh said slipping grades for SMC’s introductory chemistry class prompted the department to offer the boot-camps in 2014, even though there was little money and funding had to be cobbled together.

A nearly $2 million grant for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education from NASA in 2015 provided enough funds to offer more help for students, who were starting to ask for help, she said.

By spring 2015, the boot camps had nearly doubled from five Saturdays the first fall to 11 weeks in following regular semester.

Waugh said seven instructors, about a half dozen student aids and other SMC staff now run the long sessions, which also include specialized counseling in between the morning and afternoon workshops.

STEM students serve as peer mentors and tutors and chemistry and algebra professors cover material designed to give students a head start toward careers in STEM fields, officials said.

One student who sought help was Diego Villegas, who was given a ‘D’ the first time he attempted Chemistry 10. Villegas re-enrolled the next semester in Waugh’s class, who told him he needed to attend the workshops.

“I realized how vital it is to spend a lot of time outside the classroom to learn the material,” said Villegas. “It helped me understand how to get organized. I now appreciate the time and effort that all the people at SMC put in to help me get the grades I deserve.”

His second time around, he earned a “B” and now hopes to transfer to UCLA or USC to major in molecular biology, and eventually attend medical school.

The Dr. John W. Rice Diversity and Equity Award was established in 2001 and is granted for community colleges statewide.

SMC shared the award this year with the Family Engagement Institute at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills and the Veterans Education and Transition Services Program at Saddleback College.

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