State Grant Pays for Students to Take STEM Classes to Prep Them for UML

Middlesex Community College students Pablo Ruiz and Laura Rodriguez celebrate at the end of the Engineering Summer Bridge Program. Image by K. Webster
Students Pablo Ruiz and Laura Rodriguez celebrate the end of the Engineering Summer Bridge Program with other Middlesex and incoming transfer students.

By Katharine Webster

Nearly 20 community college students who plan to transfer to the university took one of three STEM classes on campus this summer. For free.

The classes – Surveying I, Physical Properties of Matter and Principles of Cell and Molecular Biology – are paid for by a state STEM Starter Grant aimed at encouraging community college students to complete four-year degrees in science, math, engineering and health sciences, says Audrey Frater, director of the STEM Starter Academy and Pathways Center at Middlesex Community College.

Assoc. Prof. Chronis Stamatiadis teaches Surveying I to a mix of UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College students every summer. Helene Wambe, far left, is the supplemental instructor. Image by Edward Brennen
Assoc. Prof. Chronis Stamatiadis teaches Surveying I to a mix of UML and Middlesex students enrolled in the Engineering Summer Bridge Program. Math and physics major Helene Wambe, far left, leads study sessions for the class.

The Engineering Transfer Bridge Program, created by Frater four years ago in partnership with the university, originally included just the civil engineering and physics classes. It is open to students from Middlesex who are planning to transfer or considering transferring to UMass Lowell. The students can apply to take one class if they met certain prerequisites, and they must be approved by Frater.

The program, which accepts up to 20 students a year, has proved successful, largely because Frater requires the community college students to attend twice-weekly “supplemental instruction” (SI) sessions held right before or after class.

The study sessions are led by a “supplemental instructor,” a fellow Middlesex student trained to model good study habits. Frater says the idea is to show students how to form effective study groups, since research shows that group study can be more effective than individual study.

UML students who are enrolled in the classes are welcome to join the study sessions, too. Lots of them do.

Neslihan Ocali, left, leads a supplemental instruction session for biology students including incoming transfer student James Yakura, left, and Sreya Nalla, a student at George Washington University taking the summer class at UML Image by K. Webster
Supplemental instructor Neslihan Ocali, standing, leads a study game. With UML transfer student James Yakura, left, and Sreya Nalla, a George Washington University student.

“The students who attend these sessions do better both on their homework and on tests, no matter which school they go to,” says Chronis Stamatiadis, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering who has taught Surveying I to a mix of Middlesex and UML students since the summer bridge program began in 2016. “There’s a clear difference.”

Yonis Abdi, who is studying engineering at Middlesex Community College and plans to transfer to UMass Lowell as a civil and environmental engineering major next spring, says the sessions are invaluable.

“The SI session helps us to get the main points of the class,” Abdi says. “I ask about those things I don’t get exactly … and I come up with extra questions.”

Because of the program’s success, the state Department of Higher Education expanded the grant this year to include the biology class, which is open to transfer students already accepted at UML from Middlesex and four other community colleges: Northern Essex, North Shore, MassBay and Bunker Hill.

Audrey Frater, director of the STEM Starter Academy and Pathways Center at Middlesex Community College, runs the Engineering Summer Bridge Program with UML Vice Provost for Student Success Julie Nash Image by K. Webster
Audrey Frater, left, director of the STEM Starter Academy at Middlesex Community College, runs the Engineering Summer Bridge Program with support from UML's vice provost for student success, Julie Nash.

The state Department of Higher Education also asked the three other UMass campuses with undergraduate programs to form similar STEM bridge programs with the community colleges in their areas.

Hunter Spadafora, a graduate of Middlesex and an incoming transfer student this fall, says he’s taking the biology class because he may pursue the bioinformatics track in computer science. The Honors College student also wanted to learn his way around campus before he starts studying full time.

“I’ve explored every building on North Campus – and I discovered the tunnels,” he says. “I’ve also gone to South Campus to visit the Honors College and to University Crossing to check out Career Services.”

Students in the summer bridge program also must attend an orientation and other workshops, including a one-hour course on time management and study skills presented by staff from UML’s Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services (CLASS).

Transfer student Hunter Spadafora took a biology class in the Engineering Summer Bridge Program at UMass Lowell Image by K. Webster
Honors transfer student Hunter Spadafora enjoyed learning his way around campus.

James Yakura, another incoming honors computer science student who’s taking the biology class this summer, just graduated from MassBay Community College. He says he was happy to get a jump on his studies so that he can take one less class this fall. He also learned some new study skills at the CLASS workshop.

“I learned about time budgeting – breaking material and projects into segments,” he says.

Stamatiadis says the transfer summer bridge program lives up to its name.

“It’s a very good program for helping students ease their way from a community college to the university. Most of the Middlesex students transfer to UMass Lowell later, and they’ve been very successful,” he says.

Christopher Ingemi served as a supplemental instructor for Surveying I at UMass Lowell three summers ago, and went on to earn his master's in civil engineering. He is now a bridge designer. Image by K. Webster
Christopher Ingemi went on from the Engineering Summer Bridge Program to earn his B.S. and M.S. in Civil Engineering. He is now a bridge designer.

One of those success stories is Christopher Ingemi ’18, ’19, a former union carpenter who went back to school at Middlesex during the recession while working for UPS.

Ingemi served as the supplemental instructor for Stamatiadis’s surveying class in summer 2016 while taking the class. It improved his own learning, paid him a stipend that allowed him to quit his UPS job and helped him to make connections at UMass Lowell before transferring that fall.

“It was crucial to adding to my income at the time, and I had a lot of fun doing it. I got to talk to a lot of people,” he says. “It helped me feel like I had a network.”

That network helped Ingemi get a research assistantship in Assoc. Prof. TzuYang Yu’s lab, where he did research on using radar to evaluate common building materials. Two years later, Ingemi graduated with his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and landed a co-op with Infrasense, a consulting firm in Woburn that uses radar and other nondestructive methods to evaluate bridges and roads.

This summer, after an additional year of study, Ingemi completed his master’s degree and an optional thesis on using radar to test wood. He now works as a bridge designer for BSC Group, a small civil engineering firm in Boston.