GCU unveils STEM Scholars partnership

December 04, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau

Grand Canyon University has launched a new tuition-free program in which high school students may earn a full year of college credits to advance their studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the fields known as the STEM disciplines.

The STEM Scholars program provides up to 32 college credit hours to qualified high school juniors and seniors to help them complete their first year of college, at no expense, while they’re still in high school. The program is envisioned as a way to introduce Arizona students to college-level STEM programs, place them with teacher mentors and open their minds to possible career paths in their chosen fields.

What could be: A rendering of the proposed STEM building on Camelback Road.

A new STEM building under construction on Camelback Road (shown in this rendering) is part of the University’s ongoing vision to develop a hub of learning around science, engineering, technology and math in west Phoenix.

Today, GCU announced it has partnered with Peoria Unified School District on the STEM Scholars program. Students in Peoria’s Medical, Engineering and Technology (MET) Professional Academy and Sunrise Mountain High School will be the first offered opportunities for college credit through the district and GCU.

GCU plans to expand STEM Scholars to 650 students across 10 local school districts over the next two years.

President Obama and officials in Washington, D. C., also are taking note of GCU’s dedication to the development of STEM graduates, which Arizona and the United States need to help fill jobs in high-tech, biomedical and other industries that are key to the nation’s evolution.

GCU President and CEO Brian Mueller is in Washington today to attend the White House College Opportunity Summit. The event, organized by the Obama administration, recognizes universities and other organizations dedicated to the development of quality college graduates, particularly those from underrepresented and low-income families.

While GCU has a long history of developing students in health sciences through its pre-med, nursing and other pre-health programs, Mueller said new academic degrees in computer science, information technology and engineering — and innovative partnerships with high school districts, such as the STEM Scholars program — will position the University to develop students for the workforce for years to come. In two separate construction phases, GCU also is building 160,000 square feet of new STEM classroom space on its campus along Camelback Road.

“K-12 higher education partnerships that improve academic performance in STEM areas, especially for those from lower-income backgrounds, are the most important aspect of long-term economic recovery for our country,” Mueller said. “That’s why GCU is heavily involved in trying to boost the academic performance of inner-city students and inner-city schools to try to make high-quality academic programs in STEM areas affordable to all socioeconomic classes.

“This initiative fits right into the heart of that endeavor.”

This is the second White House summit focusing on college opportunities. Obama today announced steps and federal contributions to promote college completion in the United States. White House officials stated that in the U.S. “only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile.”

GCU has seen that effect and taken action in its own community.

Less than two years ago, GCU announced a partnership with Phoenix Union High School District and neighboring Alhambra High School to establish the Learning Lounge on the University campus, where college students provide free tutoring to high school students. At the time, Alhambra students were struggling, and the school held a “D” ranking. But in just 18 months of the partnership, the school is just 10 points away from being a B-rated school, and it leads the district in geometry scores and passing grades in math classes.

Dr. Tacy Ashby, senior vice president of GCU’s Strategic Educational Alliances, which helped establish the Learning Lounge, said the partnership with Peoria Unified School District will be the first of many for the STEM Scholars program.

“It’s very exciting because STEM Scholars is directly linked to our STEM program development at GCU and the dual-enrollment program in general,” Ashby said. “It will help provide a direct pathway for students who have a very individual career choice.

“For many students, they have never had the opportunity to be on a college campus. STEM Scholars will give them that vision and provide them the opportunity to engage with GCU students and faculty.”

About 65 students who have completed their sophomore year of high school will begin the pathway this summer by taking a core course from a STEM-related degree program on the University campus. STEM Scholars will have the opportunity to earn free dual-enrollment credit by completing coursework in computer science/information technology, algebra, general chemistry, English composition, pre-calculus, biology and other courses.

STEM Scholars, as dual-enrollment students, also will have the opportunity to engage in GCU campus life, network with students, and access some of the career-development tools available to undergrads.

Leigh Critchley, executive director of GCU’s K-12 pathways program, said her spring will be busy as GCU meets with more school districts to gauge their interest in STEM Scholars.

“Any school district or school I speak to has high on their radar the need to prepare students for careers in the STEM areas,” she said. “One of the things that’s great about working with GCU (on dual-enrollment programs) is that we’re nimble. If (school districts) have a need, we’ll work with them to address it.”

STEM Scholars is open to students with a GPA of 3.25 or higher who have demonstrated excellence in their first two years of high school math and science. GCU will accept all credits students earn through the program. Courses will be taught by qualified high school teachers during the regular school year and by GCU professors in the summer.

Peoria STEM Scholars will take their college dual-credit courses at MET Professional Academy, a new facility in the district’s renovated 19th-century Old Main building. The MET Academy opens with a soft launch in January. The school will include three disciplines for students: medical, engineering and technology. Sunrise Mountain also has an accelerated learning center called University High, which is designed to prepare students in subjects in advance of college, including in math and science.

“I am very proud of the professional relationship we have established with Grand Canyon University,” said Peoria Superintendent Dr. Denton Santarelli. “Both Peoria Unified and Grand Canyon University share the same vision focused on ensuring students graduate from high school and are well prepared for success in college and their careers.

“This partnership shows our dedication to enhance community connectedness while creating additional pathways for students to be prosperous.”

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 602-639-7030 or michael.ferraresi@gcu.edu.

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