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Stanford makes community college connections

Collaborations between Stanford University and the region’s many community colleges offer exposure to academic paths, from the social sciences to nanotechnology and beyond.

Isabel Caballero Texeira, a De Anza College student studying biology, said she was “terrified-excited” when she was selected last spring for an internship through the Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Opportunity (NeURO) program at Stanford’s Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. “I was just not very confident,” she said. She considered not attending.

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Nano@stanford partnered with Foothill College’s Science Learning Institute to introduce Foothill STEM faculty and students to the field of nanotechnology and STEM research.

But as the end of the program approached, her courses and work with neurology Assistant Professor Paul George nearly complete, Caballero Teixeira described the summer as a success. “The classes provided by the NeURO program really have helped me to be able to digest the information. It’s very, very empowering,” she said as she bent over trays of cells in the School of Medicine Lab Surge Building, filling a pipette with media in order to maintain cells that are used in stroke research.

Her experience is part of a growing set of collaborations between Stanford University and the region’s many community colleges that provide unique academic experiences for community college students. Such programs reflect Stanford’s commitment to ensuring equity and inclusion in research and on campus, and to engaging with partners to learn from and give back to the local community.

Experiencing a top research institution

Nearly 30 offices across Stanford now have programs for community college students to participate in research and education opportunities. From the social sciences to neuroscience, from humanities to nanotechnology and beyond, units at Stanford are connecting with community colleges to illuminate academic paths that students might not have glimpsed before.

Isabel Caballero Teixeira, a De Anza College student, makes the media that maintain cells used in stem cell research as part of her internship with the Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Opportunity (NeURO) program at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. (Image credit: Lisa Chung)

“I’m really interested in law and how it can be applied,” said Molara Mabogunje, a Foothill College student who wanted to learn how digital science is applied to the humanities. This summer she worked on Stanford Libraries’ KNOW Systemic Racism project to learn digital humanities skills such as research design, data analysis, and digital publication strategies via the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA). “Policy is very important to me, and seeing how systemic racism is woven into law.”

Some programs have been operating for several years, started by professors as part of the demonstration of broader impact required by research grants from institutions such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Others are newer and reflect part of Stanford’s IDEAL initiative to create an inclusive, accessible, diverse, and equitable university for all community members.

The work of creating the outreach or “broader impact” part of a grant application is increasingly aided by Stanford’s Office of STEM Outreach (OSO). Led by Kyle Cole, OSO functions as a matchmaker connecting Stanford researchers working on grant applications with external STEM educational organizations.

Cole’s familiarity with the workings of the existing programs at Stanford, his knowledge of internship and mentoring best practices, and his connections with community colleges and other external STEM organizations allow him to identify the best opportunities for collaboration.

“OSO works closely with local community colleges for mutual exchange and benefit,” Cole said. “Through these partnerships, community college students receive hands-on lab experience that helps them envision a future in STEM, while Stanford faculty and students gain valuable mentoring and teaching opportunities as they advance their research and contribute to diversifying STEM fields.”

A new community of practice

In April 2022, Stanford’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE) and OSO created a new community of practice, bringing together faculty, graduate students, postdocs, and staff who work with community college programs and students. The formation of the group facilitates idea exchange, more coordinated planning, and shared problem-solving. One of the newest programs, known as the Community College Outreach Program in developmental biology, was started two years ago by Stanford graduate students Teni Anbarchian and Wendy Wenderski, who wished for research experiences and guidance when they were community college students.

“Hands-on research is probably the highest impact experience students can have to help them succeed in STEM education and careers,” Cole said. The collaborations are also welcomed by community college students outside of STEM fields who otherwise wouldn’t see how research is conducted before they reach four-year universities, said Leo Kim, a Foothill College computer science and psychology major.

“I didn’t even know qualitative coding existed,” said Kim, who was an intern at the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS) at Stanford. Immersing himself in learning it at the start of his eight-week internship, he said, made it possible to execute more complex work under the direction of Preeti Srinivasan, a PhD student in organizational behavior.

In 2022, OCE awarded a combined $128,000 in engagement funding to four programs that offer community college students internships with Stanford graduate students. The programs prioritize local students who are the first generation in their families to go to college, those who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and those from communities that are historically underrepresented in the fields the programs cover.

OSO has also worked to identify other funding streams, including state-supported programs such as MESA, which supports underrepresented students in STEM, and LAEP, which offers students opportunities to be paid for activities that are aligned with their studies. OSO also tries to raise awareness in departments that allocating money for student stipends is a valuable investment in diversity goals.

For Caballero Texeira, who had postponed college for five years to help support her family and who went back to school just as the COVID pandemic unfolded, her internship showed her a pathway to postdoctoral work, if she chooses.

“Now that I have the basics and fundamentals instilled in me, I’m able to take that insecurity, take that side of me that didn’t think I could do it – didn’t even think I belonged – and completely change the narrative. And I am immensely proud,” Caballero Texeira said.

These four programs received funding from Stanford’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE):

Digital Humanities Research and Training
The Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) partnered with Foothill College, College of San Mateo, and De Anza College to develop a summer quarter 2022 program for Bay Area community college students interested in pursuing humanities-adjacent careers or courses of study. OCE funding supported 12 summer research internships for an eight-week program. The interns, paired with Stanford humanities doctoral students, worked on digital humanities projects that advance Stanford Libraries’ KNOW Systemic Racism project. Interns learned skills such as research design, data analysis and visualization techniques, and digital publication strategies. Feedback will support CESTA’s ongoing development of broader partnerships in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

Micro-Internships at nano@stanford
Nano@stanford, a network of open-access facilities, partnered with Foothill College’s Science Learning Institute to introduce Foothill STEM faculty and students to the field of nanotechnology and STEM research. OCE funds supported 30 “micro-internships,” experiences that reduce the time commitment of traditional internships that are a barrier to some students. Stanford mentors facilitated the interns’ development of research skills, insight into institutional research culture, and hands-on learning. Through virtual and in-person tours of the nano facilities, Foothill STEM instructors and students were familiarized with the innovation environment that may spark an interest in nanotechnology and STEM degrees leading to careers in these high-need areas.

NeURO Research Opportunities
The Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute partnered with Foothill College and De Anza College to welcome students from historically marginalized backgrounds into Stanford’s Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Opportunity (NeURO) program. OCE funding supports two community college students in the two-quarter immersion program that includes coursework, community-building, and mentorship. The program is intended to launch students into neuroscience research and give them the knowledge, network, and sense of belonging that can help increase the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds represented in neurosciences.

Social Science Research Assistant Internship
The Stanford Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IRiSS) and Stanford Media and Personality (MAP) Lab partnered with Foothill College and Mission College. OCE funds support up to 20 community college research assistants who work as interns and/or staff within the program in 2022. As a core part of the project, the students play an important role in a participatory research study focused on understanding how everyday digital media can be harnessed to reach their goals.