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Cypress College, UCI, CSUF awarded National Science Foundation Grant to increase diversity in STEM, ensure workforce readiness

The National Science Foundations (NSF) has awarded Cypress College; University of California, Irvine (UCI); and California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) a $1.5 million partnership grant over three years. The grant will be used at the three campuses to encourage underrepresented students to consider studying data science and prepare them for careers in STEM fields.

The collaboration between Cypress College, UCI, and CSUF will fund the creation of the CADET program (California Data Science Experience Transformation Program), which will help better prepare students for careers in math, statistics, and computer science to be able to handle data-intensive problems. The CADET program began at Cypress College with the selection of the first cohort of six students in fall 2021. Those selected will attend a variety of seminars and workshops in the spring and attend a boot camp at UCI in the summer for training, followed by a paid internship with industry partners. Once the students complete the internship portion of the program, they will receive $5,000. It will also fund the creation of two new courses at Cypress College that will be transferable to UCI and CSUF.

Cypress College Mathematics Professor Alma Castro, the principal investigator for the NSF grant at the two-year institution, said participating in the CADET project will equip students to be more competitive in their careers when they enter the workforce.

“By incorporating data science into preexisting STEM curricula, CADET students are going to emerge from college with the tools to glean insights, skills that will make them perhaps more attractive for a job over another candidate,” said Castro. “I am very excited to bring this opportunity to Cypress College students that will allow them to participate in this newly emerging field, open a path to a new career, and place them in a job right after college.”

CADET aims to develop and implement modern data science curricula at UCI, CSUF, and Cypress College; create a gateway to diverse career opportunities; and increase data science opportunities for underrepresented science, technology, engineering, and math majors.

The colleges will facilitate data science training via curriculum development, hands-on experiences, and close interactions with academic and non-academic organizations. More than 120 CADET student scholars will participate in a host of activities, including a summer boot camp, team science training, weekly seminars, and a collaborative research project, all of which will lead to presentations at symposiums and conferences. Ultimately, through implementing new curricula and student and faculty training, the CADET project will establish a data science culture across STEM disciplines that extend beyond the lifetime of this award.
Castro said the Cypress College, UCI, and CSUF teams met regularly during the planning process to discuss details and create a reasonable and realistic plan that NSF could feel confident in funding.

“By demonstrating to NSF that our three institutions can work together and serve many of the very same students, we were able to make a convincing case that we could partner together and effectively execute this grant,” said Cypress College Interim Dean of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics David Vakil.

Of the 573 students that transferred to four-year institutions in the 2018-19 academic year, more than 480 of them transferred to a CSU or UC, with CSUF and UCI being the preferred universities.

Case in point: Castro is a former student of Dr. Sam Behseta, the lead principal investigator for the grant at CSUF. Before joining Cypress as a full-time professor, Castro taught as an adjunct at CSUF. Behseta previously collaborated on research efforts with Dr. Babak Shahbaba, the lead principal investigator at UCI.

“This is a project that correlates with the missions of the three institutions of higher education and puts a great value on the importance of community colleges in preparing knowledgeable and skilled students who are planning to enter the workforce shortly,” Castro said.

This article was released by Cypress College.