Western Nevada College News & Notes: Space grant to create scholarship opportunities

Physics Professor Tom Herring works with students Kyle Hollingshead and Timothy Hoover at Western Nevada College in Carson City.

Physics Professor Tom Herring works with students Kyle Hollingshead and Timothy Hoover at Western Nevada College in Carson City.

American Astronaut Neil Armstrong took one giant step for science and technology when he became the first person to walk on the moon in 1969. Now, the nation’s space industry is taking another step to assist students in making their own discoveries and fulfilling their own dreams.

The Nevada Space Grant Consortium has awarded the Nevada System of Higher Education $500,000 to help change the way community college students learn and create employment opportunities in space and science-related industries in the state.

What does this mean for Western Nevada College?

“The bottom line is that there will be some very nice student scholarships for students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. The program will strengthen connections with other NSHE institutions and the science that is happening at them,” said Dr. Thomas Herring, WNC physics professor and director of the college’s Jack C. Davis Observatory.

“This proposal is expected to aid in producing more community college graduates, as well as recruiting underrepresented minorities.”

The grant allows WNC to provide five students with $2,000 per semester for four semesters, a total of $8,000 per student and $40,000 in all, according to Herring.

Students will be recruited based on their STEM interest, and through classroom visits in Northern Nevada and at rural campuses. Those selected will work with faculty members on STEM projects which may include tasks in laboratories, field trips, listening to STEM presentations, participating in journal clubs, and holding weekly meetings involving the community.

A Community of Practice will be established at WNC, College of Southern Nevada, Truckee Meadows Community College and Great Basin College, integrating students at the colleges through video conferences.

“Students who are accepted into the program will not only get a scholarship that should cover the cost of attendance, but will also become a part of the Nevada scientific community through a variety of activities and even research opportunities,” said Herring. The focal point, he said, is to help the students academically so they can transition to a university and/or toward a STEM career.

Students will receive individualized degree planning and weekly interdisciplinary biological and physical science study and inquiry as they pursue their Associate of Science degrees. They will meet with their faculty advisers to confirm they are meeting their educational goals as well as maintaining at least satisfactory performance in their classes.

Students will also have the opportunity to pursue mini-grants to fund their own research activities in partnership with faculty members.

Nevada’s emerging space industry could ultimately reap the rewards of educating these students. Already, Sierra Nevada Corp. in Sparks is developing an orbital spacecraft and Bigelow Aerospace in North Las Vegas is creating expandable space station modules.

“Creating a direct path from Nevada’s higher education system to Nevada’s space industry is of critical importance,” said NSHE Chancellor Dan Klaich. “Space is an industry that’s only beginning to take shape. If we can create an environment that will attract this industry to Nevada, it can be the beginning of a high-tech boom in the state, bringing countless jobs and revenue with it. Creating these educational initiatives is where the process begins, because without a workforce to supply that industry, companies will go elsewhere.”

Plans are for NHSE to begin offering students scholarships in the spring of 2015. The program isn’t restricted to minorities.

“The primary prerequisite is a strong interest in a STEM field, which here at WNC means students pursuing Associate of Science degrees with plans to transfer to a university,” Herring said. “STEM fields are very demanding of students, and this program is an effort to harness the power of a strong community to help students not just make it through their studies but truly excel as active participants helping to push the boundaries of human knowledge.”

For more information about the scholarships, contact Herring at Thomas.herring@wnc.edu.


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