NEWTOWN >> Bucks County Community College has been awarded more than $1.5 million in grant funding for the most recent fiscal year, college officials announced.

“This amount is remarkable given the number of applications for these awards amid a shrinking pool of available resources,” said Patricia Smallacombe, Ph.D., director of grants at the public, two-year college. “As the COVID-19 pandemic struck the commonwealth at the end of the first quarter, the state diverted funds from potential grant projects for which the college had applied.”

The awards reflect the quality of the academic research and work the college is engaged in, Smallacombe added, noting that over a half-million dollars of the awards in the last fiscal year are funding much-needed Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or STEM projects.

Programs include using virtual-reality tools to encourage middle- and high-school students to consider a STEM career, and using rainwater runoff and food scraps to sustainably grow produce for local food pantries.

Among the most notable STEM grant awards over the past two years are:

- $20,000 from Dow CAC to develop a virtual-reality toolkit that middle through high school students can use to prepare for a future in STEM. By presenting workshops with VR equipment and software, students, many of whom do not have access to such technology, will explore and practice spatial thinking skills in VR. Activities include visiting middle and high schools in the Bristol area, providing students with VR experiences and career exploration.

- $10,000 from PECO Foundation for the Environmental Sustainability project. Bucks students are monitoring seed plantings fed by runoff rainwater and food preparation scraps to produce small-footprint, pesticide-and-herbicide-free produce for free distribution to groups such as the Bucks County Opportunity Council Fresh Connect program and Second Harvest.

- $35,900 from the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals to establish teaching and training across Bucks and Montgomery County Community Colleges, Jefferson University, and biopharma manufacturer MERCK. The project is designed to bridge the workforce gap in biomanufacturing, and inspire students to pursue biomanufacturing careers through networking with industry professionals.

- $391,000 over three years from the National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education Program to develop a collaborative, industry-related teaching model to connect credit and noncredit college programs, and incorporate entrepreneurship, soft-skills training, and industry-related experiences. It will provide real-world opportunities to students, and establish a model for other higher education institutions. This will result in a capable, long-term workforce and benefit company partners.

- $39,000 over three years from NSF-Noyce Scholarships, sub-award with Rider University. Rider University’s NSF-Noyce STEM Scholars program is designed to improve the number and quality of STEM educators; promote their retention in traditionally hard-to-staff school districts; and measure the impact of these educators on the pipeline of underrepresented learners in STEM careers. As a partner, Bucks will recruit community college freshmen and sophomores into the STEM Scholars program at Rider, and implement strategies that encourage and keep Bucks students interested in STEM teaching, among other initiatives.

- $10,000 from the Dow Company Foundation to support the Covered Bridge Trail Restoration Project Phase II, continuing a project begun in the 2019-2020 academic year. The project involves planting an additional 50 to 100 native trees in the lower section of a five-acre site in Tyler State Park. The work will be done by students in Dr. Kathi Knight’s Introduction to Environmental Science class as part of their Service Learning and Student Research requirements.

The STEM Department is one of seven academic departments at Bucks County Community College, which offers more than 80 programs of study that lead to either an associate degree or certificate. In addition, the college offers hundreds of noncredit educational and training opportunities through Workforce Development and Continuing Education. To learn more, visit bucks.edu.

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