Joe Wyatt
Published September 28, 2016

A $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education has positioned Amarillo College to swiftly become a hotbed of scientific exploration, research and attainment.

The Hispanic-Serving Institution-STEM Grant was announced today, and budding scientists and career-seekers soon will choose from an abundance of new certificate and degree programs that AC will introduce in horticulture, biotechnology, environmental science and sustainable resources.Conservatory

The College will begin developing these programs immediately, beginning with the certificate programs, and each will ultimately find anchorage in a spacious new STEM Conservatory.

The five-year grant provides renovation funding to create a 12,000-square-foot facility containing instructional labs and research space, along with a generous allotment of cutting-edge equipment with which to optimize it. The STEM Conservatory will be home to everything from a fluorescence microscope for live cell imaging, to a gas chromatograph for analysis of soil and plant chemicals.

The conservatory, and the many new degree and certificate programs it will support, are part of an effort to increase access to and participation in STEM degree pathways. However, the overall effort will be enormously supported by a number of innovative, ancillary initiatives.

For example, all the new programs will be inordinately project-based, an approach that engages students in hands-on learning virtually from Day 1. The College also will design its new STEM pathways to include local internships opportunities, professional mentoring and, through articulated agreements with like-minded universities, seamless transitions to bachelor’s degrees and beyond.

AC is already close to formalizing an agreement with one Tier I university, where AC STEM graduates would be able to take the next natural educational step.

“We are thrilled by this award and look forward to the many partnerships and opportunities it will create for our students, College and community,” Dr. Claudie Biggers, chair of the Biology Department and director of the HSI-STEM project, said. “Our hope is that a passion for STEM careers will be ignited by providing students with a pathway of progression and exposure to cutting-edge research experiences.”

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math; and only colleges and universities officially designated as Hispanic-serving – those whose academic enrollment is at least 25 percent Hispanic – qualify to receive grants of this nature. AC’s Hispanic enrollment stands at approximately 39 percent.