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Technology Tools

Educators often take advantage of educational technologies as they make the shifts in instruction, teacher roles, and learning experiences that next gen learning requires. Technology should not lead the design of learning, but when educators use it to personalize and enrich learning, it has the potential to accelerate mastery of critical content and skills by all students.

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Many U.S. companies report difficulty finding qualified candidates; read how one institution is taking action with support from an Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) grant.

Over the past 10 years, STEM jobs have grown three times more than other types of professions; today, STEM roles make up 20 percent of all positions. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, between 2010 and 2020 the overall employment in STEM occupations is projected to increase by 17 percent. Yet a significant number of U.S. companies report difficulty in finding qualified candidates to fill critical vacancies.

Institutions of higher education are paying attention, and some are taking action to respond to the needs of industry.

Part of the New Mexico State University system, Doña Ana Community College (DACC) was one of 26 recipients of the Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) grants; funding for their project came from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The college was one of just four institutions that received the grant for a STEM-focused initiative.

The move is a strategic one, as New Mexico anticipates a need for more than 49,000 STEM employees by 2018, with nearly four in 10 STEM jobs will involve engineering and technical occupations. Although half of all roles won’t require a four-year college degree—offering a lucrative opportunity for graduates of technical and two-year colleges—the average pay is 10 percent higher than jobs with similar educational requirements.

Rajaa Shindi, a part-time faculty member and database developer at DACC, serves as one of the college’s iPASS project leads.

“Our initial purpose was to purchase tools that help with planning and the integration of components needed for successful advising efforts. One narrative was focused solely on how we could increase STEM awareness.”

What they explored could quickly be translated into a campus-wide movement, requiring efforts across departments and a firm commitment to STEM awareness and advising. The team felt that this could cement their position locally as a STEM-focused community college that prepares students competitively for these fields in both college and career.

To get there, they established a vision for the project:

  • The critical role of STEM education and training to qualify for a well-paid blue collar and/or technical job will be communicated frequently and emphatically while integrated into the language and culture of DACC.
  • DACC will be a vital student and community resource for information related to the demand of, and practical skills required for, careers in STEM fields.
  • DACC will research and consolidate critical and basic information about stem programs and individual courses. Specifically, the college will identify, define, and organize the STEM domain and related domains based on occupation with the duties and skills associated with each occupation type identified.

Next, the team at DACC set measurable, achievable goals for advising students on STEM pathways.

Identify, promote, and increase program completion in high-demand STEM academic/career pathways

The team selected three programs that led to high-demand STEM occupations: general engineering, Associate of Science, and computer science. Today, DACC is in the process of collaborating with program advisory boards—which have a strong employer representation—to better identify critical STEM workforce needs. Advisors, faculty and staff who serve as frontline communicators with students have been trained on IPASS software applications, which DACC hopes will improve retention and expedite completion in the aforementioned cohort programs.

Through an ATD/Educause IPASS Grant, DACC implemented the first phase of our IPASS initial Ellucian CRM-Advise, a technology that engages students in learning how to successfully navigate higher education. Using CRM Advise and the necessary caseload assignments, advisors is able to target special populations within their caseloads for special advising initiatives. The college is currently focusing on STEM students by 1.) placing advising/registration holds on all STEM students, 2.) Utilizing degree maps with all STEM students, and 3.) field testing CRM Advise interventions on STEM students.

Alignment of pathways (secondary, post-secondary, workforce) based on workforce needs

The college has partnered with technical education programs to connect secondary pathways to college programs en route to in-demand STEM roles or STEM-focused bachelor's degree programs.

DACC continues to analyze workforce needs, and responds by offering relevant emerging STEM programs to meet them. Ongoing analysis of DACC’s current STEM program performance data helps to determine the direction and focus of existing and future programs through the use of predictive analytics and data-driven strategies and decisions.

Recruitment of underrepresented populations into STEM pathways

Data suggests that the U.S. educational system is not producing enough STEM graduates, and the shortage of Hispanic and female STEM workers is even greater. The three DACC cohort programs target these underserved populations. As a Hispanic-serving institution, DACC is dedicated to increasing opportunities for underserved populations to pursue STEM academic programs and careers—and the grant has enabled DACC to scale-up recruitment efforts in the areas of general engineering, Associate of Science, and computer science, specifically targeting these populations.

“We had a huge conversation about what exactly is STEM at a community college?” Shindi recalls. “Is it a technical degree that is practical and applicable? Or does it incorporate theory? We wanted to include every department and division that deals with these related areas, including advising. We strongly supported advising leadership, and offered workshops to the advisers in fields like computer science, which I led, and we invited faculty from NMSU’s College of Engineering to open up specific discussions that may not arise in the routine nature of the advising team’s work.”

Shindi is confident that DACC isn’t only enhancing its informational and advising services, but that the institution will attract and prepare more students for STEM roles. She cautions that technical domain expertise is only part of the solution, however.

“This isn’t about just knowing the material in a given STEM domain; it’s also about the breadth of a student’s education,” Shindi said. “We all hear it: computational thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking are critical 21st century skills. At the college level, we need to be aligned with what’s happening in technology, where so many aspects of professions are rapidly changing and improving. Our students will need to be adaptive in order to succeed.”

Open workshops on popular topics such as app development have attracted attendees in the hundreds. Other collaborative efforts include information fairs, which involve both faculty and advising staff, where fields such as data science, software engineering, and computer programming are discussed. As a result, students who were previously unsure of their prospects in a STEM field often engage with their advisers and return to similar events with curiosity and excitement. The college has even adopted a new logo (pictured below) that prominently displays its relationship to STEM fields.


The STEM initiatives are everywhere, Shindi notes, but the difference is that DACC is focusing on an exclusive community college audience, which isn’t often included in such efforts. “We have encountered challenges from a motivational perspective,” she said. “Getting students to attend events, to take the time to explore and to be willing to set aside their apprehension about quantitative courses hasn’t been easy. The more connected we become to local high schools, the better results we’re seeing once students have enrolled.”

Shindi reports that what DACC team has accomplished thus far is having a positive impact. “We’ve planted a seed and it’s going to grow, as we’re building an identity as a community college that offers STEM programs. Creating further momentum toward STEM-focused careers will undoubtedly shape our students’ experiences and their professional trajectories for the long term.”

Guest Blogger graphic

​Rajaa Shindi and Kristi DePaul

Rajaa Shindi is a faculty member and database developer at Doña Ana Community College and Kristi DePaul is the CEO of Founders Marketing.