Photo By: Elliott Burr/Town Crier
Foothill College President Judy Miner advocates not only for her school, but also for community colleges throughout the country.
Last year Miner was one of 17 professionals selected to serve on the nation’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Higher Education Working Group.
“It was really very exciting, and, of course, to have an opportunity to provide input into maybe one of the most important reports for community colleges was really a signal honor,” Miner said of working with STEM, under the auspices of President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
The group was commissioned to research and make recommendations to PCAST about STEM education during the first two years of secondary education. The group’s findings were shared with Obama. Miner was the only representative on the committee from a community college; other members represented four-year universities and the business world.
Recommendations included a broader adoption of best pedagogy in science, advocacy for hands-on and applied learning, increased math preparation at all levels of education, increased emphasis on partnerships with business and industry and convening members of the academic and business community to follow up on what the recommendations might look like in their implementation.
Obama clearly received the message – in February he pledged to create an $8 billion Community College to Career Fund. Co-administered by the departments of Labor and Education, the fund aims to promote partnerships between community colleges and businesses to train 2 million workers for well-paying jobs in high-growth and high-demand industries.
“Eight billion dollars could fund a great deal of effective training in community colleges,” Miner said. “Unfortunately, the proposal appears to have stalled.”
What it means for Foothill
Locally, Miner said the recommendations have provided a rubric for Foothill’s Science Learning Institute on the Los Altos Hills campus.
“We have conceived of the Science Learning Institute as a way of making our commitment to high-quality STEM education through relevant curriculum, effective instruction and strategic partnerships,” she said.
Miner added that approximately one-third of Foothill students are STEM students, and she would like to see that population grow and better represent the community at large to include more minorities and women. School officials are also working to build more partnerships with local business and industry, according to Miner.
“We would all recognize that there is too little money going around for education in general, and Foothill in particular,” she said. “We need to leverage what we can do best and optimize those (business partnerships), because without those kinds of connections, we’re not going to be able to create those types of opportunities for our students.”
Spreading the word
As a result of her participation on the national committee, Miner said she forged many beneficial relationships and spread the word about Foothill and community colleges in general.
She worked on a project that Harvard University economist Richard Freeman developed with other four-year universities and Foothill.
“When you think about the players who have been there on the national level, it is not typically community colleges,” Miner said. “To have Harvard carrying this message for us, to say that community colleges are important, is a remarkable achievement.”
Miner also was on the planning committee for the National Academy of Sciences invitation-only Science Education Summit in December. She said her involvement in the summit was her contribution to relaying the advisory group’s message after the recommendations were released.
To increase opportunities for secondary education institutes to compete for beneficial grants, Miner said one of the ideas coming from the committee was to have the National Academy of Sciences (a nongovernmental agency) bring together the departments of Defense, Labor, Commerce and Education and begin a discussion on the grant creation and implementation process, with the PCAST recommendations in mind.
“So it may actually create an opportunity for us to get funding in a competitive environment,” she said.
Miner also recently advocated for community colleges in Science Magazine, writing an editorial about their importance. In addition, the project allowed her an opportunity to create a podcast touting several Foothill programs.
“I want my legacy to be that Foothill becomes that much more noted for transfer and workforce education with a particular emphasis in STEM,” she said. “It is about the visibility for the institution, and again it is about the visibility for community colleges, because we are a well-kept secret in many quarters.”