Learning, Doing, Teaching: ROCCT Program Targets Community Colleges

Nov. 4, 2015 - In an effort to help community college teachers get their students more interested and involved in STEM-related research, a UC Irvine civil and environmental engineering professor has teamed up with the university’s Office of Access and Inclusion. The result is ROCCT – Research Opportunities for Community College Teachers – a three-year, $600,000 National Science Foundation grant that designates UCI as a Research Experience for Teachers site,  and the gathering point for participants from four local community colleges: Irvine Valley, Saddleback, Cypress and Fullerton.

The program, which begins next summer, will hone in on innovative research projects aimed at fighting drought. A local government agency, Orange County Watersheds, is partnering with UCI and the four community colleges.

The Samueli School’s Stanley Grant is the project’s principal investigator, and OAI’s Sharnnia Artis is the co-PI. Together, they are designing the nine-week summer program, which will encompass hands-on research and a workshop to help participants translate what they’ve learned into engaging science and engineering curricula. 

“Community colleges are one of the richest pools of underrepresented, first-generation college students,” Artis says. “These four colleges are all within 20 miles of UCI and they service a diverse population of students. If we can help get these students interested and engaged in STEM-related research, we think that will encourage them to continue their educations, whether here at UCI or elsewhere.”

ROCCT will be a sister program to one of Grant’s ongoing projects – the NSF-funded UCI Water PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education), a multicampus, multinational effort to increase knowledge and understanding of sustainable urban water systems. PIRE involves undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in water-related research as a way to equip a new generation of engineers, scientists, policymakers and educators with multidisciplinary skills.

ROCCT will support 10 community college teachers each year – a total of 30 – who will be selected after a comprehensive application process. Alongside the PIRE students, they will participate in a one-week sustainability “boot-camp,” designed to improve their understanding of laboratory methods, safety procedures, research ethics and key topics in urban water sustainability.

For the ROCCT participants, boot camp will be followed by six weeks of hands-on research led by UCI faculty, graduate students and industry partners. The program will conclude with a two-week curriculum workshop, held in conjunction with UCI’s Teaching, Learning & Technology Center, which will help the teachers create compelling science and engineering lessons to take back to their community college students.

“We believe by tackling sustainability problems of topical interest, we can bring immediacy and relevance to community college classrooms,” says Grant. “Research shows this can improve student STEM participation.”

--Anna Lynn Spitzer

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