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Boston high school students get STEM experience at RCC summer program

Avery Bleichfeld
Boston high school students get STEM experience at RCC summer program
A student works on robotics at Roxbury Community College Summer STEM Experience Progam. BANNER PHOTO

Thirty Boston-area high school students had the chance to expand their knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math at a summer program run by Roxbury Community College and NuSq Life Science Training Center, an upcoming development based in Nubian Square.

For the students in the Summer STEM Experience Program, exposure to 10 science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects offered close-up experience on the topics for the first time or a chance to explore them in a new light.

“It was all things that were new to me, and the college even made it better by personalizing it and [making it] hands-on, so we could truly get a grasp at what we’re learning and what we’re looking at and what’s going on with what we’re doing,” said Amy Nguyen, who participated in the program and recently graduated from Boston Arts Academy.

Hillel Sims, RCC’s dean of STEM, said the program, which ran from July 10 to Aug. 10, provided students with access to a wider range of topics and experiences.

“Even if some of these students might have been exposed to one or two of these areas, they probably haven’t gotten exposed to all of them. Even then, it’s limited to what they might have had access to at their high school,” Sims said.

He said the program also gives students access to equipment and resources that high schools just don’t have.

Students learn things such as 3D printing and drones, biology and chemistry, and nature and environmental science while seeing themselves pursuing those fields in college or professionally. Nguyen said she is attending Northeastern University in the fall, with plans to study health sciences.

This year, the program partnered with the NuSq Life Science Training Center, which aims to increase arts, culture and opportunities in the Nubian Square area. The development is set to include about 30,000 square feet for lab and training space to address a much-needed push to get Black and brown Bostonians into life science jobs, said Richard Taylor, who leads the training center.

Students work during robotics lab at Roxbury Community College Summer STEM Experience Program. BANNER PHOTO

“I believe … the civil rights issue of Boston today is getting folks to get involved in the life science industry,” Taylor said. “Otherwise, we’ll never deal with income inequality and narrow the wealth gap.”

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council reported in a 2021 report that people of color comprised 15% of the state’s biopharmaceutical workforce compared with 32% of the general population. That dropped to 8% of biopharmaceutical executive management.

Taylor said the training center, which will be near Nubian Station, will be optimally located to get residents into life sciences jobs due to its proximity to schools like Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and the future site of Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology.

“You have trainable talent that can also get to where the jobs are,” Taylor said. “No other place in the city has this competitive advantage.”

Sims said the structure of the program, which started in 2015, has had to change from year to year, due to a lack of consistent, stable funding. This year, with the assistance of Taylor, the program was funded through the city’s SuccessLink jobs program.

“Their time is valuable, and we want to make sure that they don’t have to choose between a job that might not be to the benefit of their future but pays money,” Sims said. “We want to combine the two.”

He said he hopes the new source of funding will continue and allow the structure to remain more consistent.

Sims also said he hopes experience on a community college campus will give students the opportunity to explore it as a next step for education — especially as local and state officials work to eliminate the cost of community college tuition through efforts like Boston’s Tuition-Free Community College Plan or the state’s proposed MassReconnect Program.

“Are they going to go to a private institution, or will they give a try to this free educational program at the community college?” Sims said. “There are a lot of stigmas out there surrounding community colleges, and I want to make sure that they understand that that is an unfounded stigma, that we have some fantastic labs, we have some fantastic instructors.”

Nguyen encouraged other students to try the program.

“This is a great opportunity to learn more about what you don’t know,” she said. “It seems kind of boring, but you get to build robots with Legos. That’s so cool.”

NuSq Life Science Training Center, RCC, Roxbury Community College, STEM