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Senator Cantwell and STEM Student

Cantwell meets with STEM faculty and students

YVC students and faculty share their ongoing research and future aspirations during science roundtable

This November U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell visited Yakima Valley College for a roundtable discussion about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education opportunities. Sen. Cantwell, YVC faculty and students discussed the hands-on STEM education opportunities available at YVC, as well as new federal funding for programs aimed at Hispanic and first-generation college students unlocked by the recently-passed CHIPS & Science Act.

During the visit Cantwell commended YVC for being a leader in STEM and for providing opportunities for first-generation students in the Yakima Valley.

Senator Maria Cantwell in science lab with students
Senator Maria Cantwell in science lab with students

“You guys have been leading users of STEM education dollars through the National Science Foundation to actually increase the number of STEM students, but we need to put pedal to the metal. We need to do more,” Sen. Cantwell said at the roundtable.

With new federal funding, Cantwell believes YVC can be the “backbone” of Central Washington STEM education.

“How do we grow capacity all across the nation? Not every big tech innovation that’s going to happen next is going to happen in San Francisco or Seattle — which, it’s not even affordable to do it there — so how do you build capacity for that to happen in other places like here in Yakima? Well, you have to use your institution as the backbone of that.”

Senator Cantwell visits with YVC faculty and students in a roundtable discussion
A STEM student speaks with Senator Cantwell in Glenn Anthon Hall

Roundtable participants included:

  • Rajkumar Raj, Engineering Department Chair
  • Cristy Rasmussen, Director of STEM Programs
  • Wilma Dulin, Coordinator of Institutional Effectiveness
  • Holly Ferguson, Viticulture Instructor
  • Matthew Loeser, Biology Instructor
  • Shawn Teng, Director of Occupational Health & Safety and Organic Chemistry Instructor
  • Anselma Bautista, first-generation YVC student studying to become a physician assistant
  • Eddie Juarez, first-generation YVC student and STEM Club president studying to become a physician
  • GianCarlo Perez, YVC student and STEM Club secretary studying optometry
  • Luis Soto-Miranda, YVC student studying computer science
  • Kevin Perez, YVC student studying engineering

YVC educators and students told Sen. Cantwell about the school’s existing programs, including an immersive STEM Club, an engineering lab where students gain experience using industry-standard software and 3D printers, and ongoing agricultural research projects in Yakima Valley involving both field and lab work. Roundtable participants additionally discussed the specific, newly-available federal grants created by the CHIPS & Science Act that could help YVC expand its STEM offerings.

The CHIPS & Science Act — of which Sen. Cantwell was a chief architect and lead negotiator — authorizes $13 billion in STEM education funding at the National Science Foundation, representing a tripling of the NSF’s annual STEM education budget over five years. One grant program unlocked by the bill is the Innovation in STEM Community College Education program,  which can be used to scale up successful practices at community colleges like YVC, design and develop new curriculum, and provide hands-on research experiences for students.

YVC has successfully competed for NSF funds in the past – in 2016, the school received a $448,000 NSF to establish its New Scientist Training program, which provided scholarships, mentorship, and hands-on research opportunities to 52 low-income and first-generation students. In 2021, YVC received $496,694 from the NSF Hispanic-Serving Institution program to support its STEM Pathways program. The Pathways program aims to increase the percentage of Hispanic students participating in STEM courses.

Group of YVC faculty and students pose with Senator Cantwell in Glenn Anthon Hall
Left to right: Student Eddy Juarez, Student Anselma Bautista, Engineering Teacher Rajkumar Raj, Agriculture Teacher Holly Ferguson, Administrator Wilma Dulina, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Biology Instructor Matthew Loeser, Student GianCarlo Perez, Instructor Shawn Teng, Student Kevin Perez and student Luis Soto Miranda.

More than half of Yakima Valley College’s enrolled students are Hispanic, and 80 percent of the student body are first generation college attendees.

“This is about access. Let’s give people the access and turn on the opportunity, and you guys will take care of the rest of this,” Sen. Cantwell said. “You really have a lot of support and you’ve shown a lot of really great examples of why this works. You might be one of the leading examples in this state.”

The CHIPS & Science Act additionally directs the NSF to increase STEM education opportunities for women, minorities, and Tribal communities and directs more than $1 billion to minority-serving institutions and emerging research institutions like YVC with a proven track record of helping grow a diverse workforce. YVC would also be eligible for funding under the NSF’s $750 million Advanced Technological Education Program, which supports training the technical workforce, as well as for programs focused on research partnerships with other universities, training veterans, and providing opportunities for low income students, women, and other groups underrepresented in STEM. The bill was signed into law on August 9, 2022.

The roundtable was followed by a tour of YVC’s STEM education facilities.Learn more about YVC’s STEM pathway, facilities and degree and certificate options available.