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Berkshire Community College Highlights Pair Of Sciences Programs At Open House

The Berkshire Community College logo

Berkshire Community College is holding an open house on its main Pittsfield, Massachusetts campus tonight.

The open house will highlight the college’s STEM Starter Academy and new MassTeach program.

“STEM, the acronym, stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," said Charlie Kaminski, Dean of Business, Science, Mathematics and Technology at BCC. He runs an office of 20 full-time faculty offering 28 degree and certificate programs. Kaminski says the open house will explain the benefits of the two programs. The newer of the two is the MassTeach program, "which is a new STEM teacher focused program funded by the National Science Foundation," Kaminski told WAMC. "BCC is part of kind of a statewide consortium of six college and universities where we’re piloting this, and the MassTeach program is designed to recruit community college students who are interested in a STEM field, but particularly interested in teaching in that field.”

The program offers MassTeach scholars $20,000 scholarships and academic advising as they first earn an associate’s degree at BCC before moving to the Massachusetts College Of Liberal Arts in North Adams. There, they complete a bachelor’s degree and a secondary certification to teach in public schools “with the understanding that they teach kind of in a high-risk, high-need district,” said Kaminski.

MassTeach is designed to boost numbers and diversify the kind of teachers working in the state.

“There’s kind of a symbiosis between the MassTeach program and the STEM Starter Academy, and through the STEM Starter Academy we have liaisons at the high school that are kind of our people on the ground in the high schools working with guidance counselors, working with teachers to identify students who have an interest in STEM but maybe aren’t thinking about leaving the area or jumping right into a four-year degree,” explained the dean.

The STEM Academy is designed for students who might have doubts about their ability to flourish in the sciences.

“If they’re not quite ready to start their studies in the STEM field, then we have the resources and support services available to help them get there," said Kaminski. "And I think in many students, if they feel if maybe they weren’t the greatest, strongest students in high school, so the idea of pursuing a degree in a STEM field might seem unrealistic, but to try to convince them that they should set those concerns aside and seriously consider coming to the college and starting their education here.”

Constance West is the BCC STEM Starter Academy Coordinator.

“We started in 2014 with 21 students, and each year we have grown," West told WAMC. "So this past summer I had 44 students in the academy, and we picked up another nine in the fall.”

She works with high schools throughout the county to bring young learners into the academy. It’s one of the 15 Massachusetts community colleges funded by a non-competitive state grant.

“The academy most often starts in the summer before they are freshmen in college, and we do a very intense week called BCC STEM 101, and it’s to get them acclimated to college,” said West.

The first week of the academy is designed to give students a crash course in what will be expected of them in college.

“Then the second week is a STEM explore week, and we each day do various activities that students sign up for — so for example, you could sign up for the engineering day or you could sign up for the biotech day," West said, "and so it’s a full day working with professors and instructors in hands-on activities to help students kind of feel what they’re interested in pursuing.”

MassTeach students also participate along with other academy participants in the first week before splitting off for more specific training in the second.

Kaminski says the $1.5 million funding from the National Science Foundation of a state program like MassTeach is a first.

“And what’s very special about that is that because of our direct inclusion of community college as part of the programming, I think that’s what’s happened is they’ve realized the best way to recruit teachers to work in certain communities is to go into those communities and groom the teachers,” he told WAMC.

The open house starts at 6 p.m. at the Pittsfield campus of Berkshire Community College.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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