Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


Foothill College’s new facility focuses on STEM education

Photo By: Ellie Van HOutte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Foothill Chemistry 12B instructor Victor Tam, second from right, works with students as they conduct a gas chromatrograph experiment in the campus’ new Physical Sciences and Engineering Center.

Foothill College is preparing for students of the future as its new Physical Sciences and Engineering Center officially opened last week.

The new center is dedicated to strengthening student mastery of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through interdisciplinary teaching and applied learning.

The facility features integrated instructional technology and classrooms, state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, signature art installations and unique sustainability features designed to enhance student learning.

The new facility

Measure C, a capital improvement bond approved in 2006 by voters residing in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, funded the Physical Sciences and Engineering Center, which cost approximately $41.6 million. The facility’s design merited the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design silver rating.

The Bay Area’s Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company began construction in February 2011. Emeryville-based Ratcliff Architects developed the award-winning design of the center. In 2009, Ratcliff won statewide recognition with a Community College Facility Coalition Award of Merit for its design of Foothill’s Physical Sciences and Engineering Center.

All design and structural components of the new facility complement the distinctive Pacific-style architecture for which Foothill is known.

The complex is 65,800 square feet and comprises three buildings. The lab building houses five chemistry labs, two physics labs, a nanoscience lab and a multipurpose lab. The classroom building features six classrooms and two large lecture rooms. The commons area includes conference/multipurpose space, a small cafe and faculty offices.

Encouraging STEM education

The new facility is home to the Foothill College Science Learning Institute (SLI), an instructional model that draws on educational research and best practices to support successful teaching and learning of STEM-related content. Although based in the new facility, the learning institute curriculum extends across the campus.

SLI is an outgrowth of faculty collaboration that took place during the design of the center and discussions on how the new facility could support quality teaching and learning. Those conversations inspired an ongoing exploration of how best to engage students in the study of STEM subjects, resulting in new curriculum and an impetus to use the Foothill campus and community as living laboratories to offer students a meaningful, hands-on experience.

The key goals of SLI are to increase the university-transfer rates of students studying STEM subjects and to develop a STEM workforce prepared for jobs in computer science, nanotechnology and renewable energy systems.

“The future of Silicon Valley’s economy depends upon a workforce that is proficient in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Foothill College President Judy Miner said. “To fill the jobs that make up our region’s unique economy, Foothill College must educate a wide range of students to succeed in STEM-related subjects.”

With greater demand for science and mathematics training for jobs and fewer degrees awarded in those fields, the U.S. is becoming less competitive globally. Miner said to address the disparity, community colleges like Foothill are leading a national effort to retrain laid-off workers and create curricula to educate more students in the sciences.

“Foothill’s Science Learning Institute will prepare students with a firm foundation in STEM subjects,” said Physical Sciences, Math and Engineering Division Dean Peter Murray. “Its teaching strategies and hands-on learning approach will expose students to a new way of thinking, encouraging them to explore the process of science – not just the solution.”

Institute learning

SLI is designed to use the facilities and resources of the 122-acre Foothill campus as a living laboratory. For example, students enrolled in Foothill’s new Sustainability and Energy Program study the campus energy system, including monitoring and analyzing the actual energy produced by the college’s 1.5 MW photovoltaic system.

This blend of academic study and fieldwork enables students to see functioning uses of technology, including real-time data. The opportunity to learn from, interact with and apply lessons directly gives students experiences they could previously only obtain through extended internships in the upper division of their academic pursuits.

Through community and business donations, SLI provides scholarships for STEM summer camps for high school juniors and seniors. Foothill’s STEM summer camps will focus on serving women and underrepresented students.

SLI will partner with such organizations as the Gates Foundation’s Global Skills for College Completion, the Carnegie Foundation’s Statway Project, the National Science Foundation’s STEMWay and Nanotechnology projects, and campus programs such as Math My Way.

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