BMCC Receives $500K Grant to Increase Engagement Among Students Underrepresented in STEM

students working at laptops

October 21. 2021

A group of Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) professors led by CIS Professor Mohammad Azhar have received a $500,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will develop learning environments intended to engage underrepresented minority students as well as women in STEM courses, activities and career paths.

Specifically, the grant will fund the project, “Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Implementation and Evaluation: Bridging the Gap: Designing a Technology Learning Community Integrating Computational Thinking to Improve STEM Engagement Across Disciplines.”  The project’s Principal Investigator (PI) is Computer Information Systems (CIS) Professor Mohammad Azhar. CIS Professor Younes Benkarroum as well as Sociology Professor Elizabeth Wissinger are the co-PI’s on the project.

“This project will create a generalizable and effective model that will enable Hispanic, underrepresented minority students, and women students to gain the self-efficacy needed to persist in STEM-allied fields by combining computational thinking within both formal and informal learning,” said Professor Azhar.

Involving both CIS and non-CIS majors—social science and business—this technology-focused learning community will improve student problem-solving skills and spur innovation.

The project’s PI, Professor Azhar, says the infusion of computational thinking into both CIS and non-CIS courses will help so they can solve real-world problems in settings or activities such as Hack-A-Thons or Make-A-Thons, in which students design projects collaboratively and apply technology to innovate solution. The project also established the BMCC Success and Innovation Lab supported by faculty, peer-mentors and industry experts to introduce technology, entrepreneurial skills, and soft skills to students. Those skills can be applied towards Hack-A-Thon or Make-A-Thon projects as well as their careers.

As part of the NSF funded project, BMCC will host its first ever Virtual Hack-A-Thon: Hacking for Social Good on Saturday, October 30 from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.  The deadline to register for the Hack-A-Thon is October 26.

Students from all academic majors are invited to participate, form teams, and build innovative projects and compete for prizes. The purpose of the Hack-A-Thon is to inspire BMCC students to work collaboratively to solve real-world problems and familiarize themselves with current technology.

Over the course of the grant period, the project will facilitate relationships and engagements by incorporating local business and incubator partnerships.

Ultimately, the project seeks to increase retention and persistence, reducing the STEM intimidation barrier, and filling a gap for interdisciplinary learning communities.

The program funded by this NSF grant relates to BMCC’s Strategic Plan including goal three, the expansion of career development leading to meaningful work with family-sustaining wages.

  • Grant will fund learning environments such as Hack-A-Thons
  • BMCC Virtual Hack-A-Thon October 30
  • Project’s Principal Investigator is CIS Professor Mohammad Azhar

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