Opening Doors to Science

Hispanic and low-income students studying science at Saint Mary’s now have more access to tutors, mentors, internships, and diverse speakers, thanks to the CALC (Caminos a Las Ciencias or Pathways to Science) program, funded by the $2.7 million Hispanic Serving Institution STEM grant the College received from the U.S. Department of Education last year.

“Our mission is to improve the outcomes for these students,” said program director Ameer Thompson. “Every student who comes to Saint Mary’s and wants to study science should have a chance to do so.”

The program has several components—a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Center with expanded tutoring hours to accommodate students’ work schedules, a series of diverse speakers, internships, mentoring, and a partnership with Los Medanos Community College that sets up transfer students to succeed at SMC.

One impediment to success for low-income students of color is the outdated notion that scientists should look a certain way. “Students who are first-generation or persons of color may be the only one in a classroom who represents their background,” Thompson said. “It can be very alienating.

The CALC program works to build a sense of community for students. “Heaped on top of their own anxiety about being different, they’re also participating in a particularly difficult curriculum, studying subjects such as calculus or organic chemistry,” said Thompson, a trained scientist from an underrepresented background who studied at Cornell and Columbia universities.

“If we help these students harness their strengths and everything they bring to the table, they are going to be successful students and world citizens who will really make an impact,” he said.