From the Omaha World Herald - May 23, 2004
STEP Member UNO and Metropolitan Community College (MCC) have joined forces to increase the number of college-level graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathmatics. Pictured are UNO's Jack Heidel, MCC's Michele O'Connor, UNO's Dana Richter-Egger and UNO's Hesham Ali.

Employers need trained workers with strong math, technology and science skills more than ever. To address this need - and to encourage more minority and nontraditional students to consider math and science careers - UNO and MCC have formed a unique partnership.

The two institutions are collaborating to increase the number of college-level graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (collectively known as STEM areas). The initiative is made possible through a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation's STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP). UNO was one of 12 institutions awarded funding, chosen from a pool of 190.

"There's a huge need for STEM-educated professionals and it's true in all scientific areas," says Jack Heidel, chair of the UNO Department of Mathematics. "There are plenty of people who have the ability for these areas, but may not realize it or haven't had the environment to nurture it. That's how this program can help."

UNO will focus on several initiatives, including increasing the number of bachelor's degrees in biology, chemistry, computer science, geology, mathematics and physics. MCC will add to its technology-based associate's degree programs, with the aim of adding new tracks in computer science and other STEM areas. By partnering in this program, both institutions offer a continuum of education for area students, says Michele O'Connor, dean of math, science and health careers at MCC.

"Our partnership with UNO allows more students the chance to recognize that they can get strong foundation skills with us and then go on to earn a bachelor's degree," she says. "Not only will their credits transfer from our program to UNO, but students will know there's a partnership between both institutions. This is our opportunity to provide a clearer path for all types of students."

A key part of the program involves recruiting and mentoring under-represented students, including women, minorities and adult learners. MCC "bridge" scholarships will encourage students to take STEM courses at the community college, then transfer to UNO to earn a bachelor's degree.

UNO will recruit STEP scholars through its long-time Goodrich Scholarship Program, says Heidel. The program, which provides financial aid and support services to qualified students, will award 20 to 25 scholarships to students who will start classes in Fall 2004.

Other aspects of the program include UNO and MCC internship opportunities, early undergraduate research for UNO students, establishing a mathematics-science learning center at UNO based on an existing model at MCC, developing new interdisciplinary courses and majors at UNO in bioinformatics, information assurance, medicinal chemistry and neuroscience, and developing outreach activities at area high schools.

The STEP program is an important action in strengthening people resources in science and technology companies, and addressing the shortage of STEM workers in the local and regional community, Heidel emphasizes. "This is a catalyst to provide more qualified employees to our employers and therefore help the Omaha area develop economically," he says. "We're very optimistic about the potential it offers our students, our educational institutions and our business community."