Preparing Students for a STEM Future

River Valley Community College: Preparing Students for a STEM Future

Look at projections for the fastest growing jobs in NH between the fourth quarter of 2012 and Q4 2014, and it’s clear workers who want to land jobs need to brush up on their math skills. From biomedical engineers and machinists to market research analysts and veterinary technicians, jobs require some understanding of higher math to do analysis, understand dosages, run machines and conduct experiments.

River Valley Community College in Claremont and Keene is one potential stop on a route to those careers, so the college puts a heavy emphasis on math literacy. That includes a new program in pre-engineering studies set to launch this year, but also extends into many current course offerings in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

“Our cornerstone programming since we opened our doors in the late 60s was Allied Health, so we’ve been doing STEM for over 40 years,” says Valerie Mahar, vice president of student and community affairs.

The college currently has just fewer than 1,800 students, of which 496 are full time and 1,294 are part time. Most of the students are women (70 percent), with an average age of 27. The most popular majors are general studies, physical therapist assistant, occupational therapy assistant, business management, and computer technology. The fastest growing majors are business management, liberal arts (with a transfer to a four-year school), medical assistant, cybersecurity and health care IT.

River Valley is now finishing a $2.9 million renovation that includes new labs, offices and a café. The college also received a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant to fund programs in cybersecurity and health care IT, fields that are growing in response to beefed up health care privacy laws and a switch to digital records.

Building Success

One of the biggest changes to the campus is the massive renovation project that affects more than 85 percent of the current Claremont facility. The renovation will allow the college to offer students the advanced technology training they will need in the workplace as well as knowledge they’ll need for a transfer to a four-year college.

The project includes new labs and technology for the occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant and respiratory therapy programs, all of which Harvey-Smith says are the only courses of their kind in the state.  The project will also include moving the Learning and Student Success Center so that it is adjacent to the Puksta Library. Harvey-Smith says this will allow students easier access to studying and tutoring resources.

The renovation will also create new faculty offices, several new smart classrooms, a new grant laboratory for scientific research and a new advanced machine tool lab, says Mahar. This grant-funded portion of the project will allow the college to purchase machines and 3D printers to give students practical experience, she says. The $1.1 million comes from River Valley’s share of a community college system federal training grant for advanced manufacturing.

A new multi-function café and learning space will replace the current Falcon Room dining area, and all hallways and common areas are being remodeled. The majority of funding was provided by the State of NH. Construction is expected to be complete by June.