Building STEM Communities with Community Colleges

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Energy blog.

April is Community College Month. We’re jumping in to celebrate by sharing our STEM workforce development and education outreach opportunities. These programs target students from the more than 1,000 public and private community colleges across the United States. (And did you know that Dr. Jill Biden is a community college teacher alongside her role as First Lady of the United States?)

Community colleges educate a diverse student population across age, family educational attainment, race, and area of study, reflecting the nation as a whole. They often reach students who are unable to access traditional, four-year degree programs. According to the U.S. Census, more than 30 percent of college students are undergraduates at two-year colleges. More than half of students in community colleges  attend part-time as they develop workforce skills and earn associate degrees, certificates, or baccalaureate degrees. Students at community colleges are able to obtain a high-quality education that’s affordable and can launch them straight into careers or other four-year degree programs.

America is poised to make a major investment in community college infrastructure. The American Jobs Plan proposes spending $12 billion for facilities and technologies as well as identifying strategies to address access to community colleges in education deserts.

Internships Program

The DOE’s flagship program is our Community College Internships (CCI) program through the Office of Science. It’s a competitive 10-week paid internship for community college students. Students can work at one of 16 participating DOE national laboratories under the supervision of lab technicians or researchers. They work on technologies, instrumentation projects, or major research facilities in support of DOE’s mission. Host laboratories also offer additional professional development opportunities, including workshops, laboratory tours, and scientific lectures. Internships are offered in the spring, summer, and fall.

Applications for the Fall 2021 term of this program are due on May 27, 2021.

Community College Internships participant Nabeel Jaser used his interest in engineering to advance research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source facility.
Community College Internships participant Nabeel Jaser used his interest in engineering to advance research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source facility.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The experiences of CCI participants mirror the diverse research done at our national laboratories. At Argonne National Laboratory in 2018, Brenda Escobedo developed a device that mimicked a piece of the Gammasphere Accelerator. Engineers at Argonne were in the process of upgrading the detector and used Escobedo’s device to test the upgrade.

Mwesi Musisi-Nkambwe interned at Brookhaven National Laboratory through both the Community College Internships program (2003) and the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program (2004). During his internships, he improved the interface in the control room of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (an Office of Science user facility) that technicians use to manage the equipment.

At Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2016, Nabeel Jaser worked to improve the efficiency of the beamline of one of the most intense pulsed neutron beams in the world. With his mentor, he constructed a tool that scientists could use to change out samples more quickly.

Community colleges provide opportunities for millions of Americans from all walks of life and while the American Jobs Plan is paving the way for even more Americans to benefit, the DOE’s internship program is just one of many ways it supports STEM workforce development and education. For more resources for college and graduate students in STEM from the U.S. Department of Energy, visit STEM Rising.

Shannon Brescher Shea is a Social Media Manager and Senior Writer/Editor for the Office of Science.
AnneMarie Horowitz has been with the Energy Department since 2009, and is the Director of STEM Rising, a priority Departmental initiative to highlight the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs and resources of the agency.