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NSF recognizes Whatcom’s innovative STEM instruction with $624,224 in grants

Post Date:09/29/2016 9:14 am

WCC ranks third in the state and 150th in the nation among higher education institutions receiving NSF grants in 2015

Recent grants fund online option of WCC’s new BAS degree in IT Networking, use of 3D printers in math classes, and research to advance retention and transfer of science concepts

One of Whatcom Community College's 3D printers in action.


Bellingham, Wash. – In recognition of its excellence and innovation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, Whatcom Community College (WCC) has received three National Science Foundation (NSF) grants worth more than $600,000. The grants are the latest in a series of NSF awards to fund inventive projects at the College. WCC ranked third in the state and 150th in the nation among approximately 900 community colleges and universities in fiscal year 2015 grant funding from the NSF. Of the 23 Washington state institutions receiving funds, WCC follows only the University of Washington and Washington State University in the value of awards received.

The new grants include $499,998 for “Building Cyber Capacity in the Northwest and Beyond.” The grant will fund an online option for WCC’s new bachelor of applied science (BAS) degree in IT networking. A second NSF grant of $72,310 will explore the use of 3D printing in the classroom to retain STEM students and to improve students’ long-term memory of key math concepts. And a third $51,916 grant will fund WCC’s collaborative research with Western Washington University to advance the retention and transfer of foundational science concepts from a physics context to other science classes.

“These newly awarded NSF grants confirm that WCC faculty are innovators who are piloting new approaches in the classroom that encourage students to pursue STEM careers,” says WCC President Kathi Hiyane-Brown. “The grants help to build the workforce in these high-demand fields.” She added that WCC grads experience strong employment rates. For instance, graduates of the CIS/cybersecurity program have a nearly perfect employment rate and are hired by companies such as Boeing, Shell Oil, Amazon, Faithlife, Wood Stone, the City of Blaine, Data Doctors, supply-chain companies and other well-known technology-oriented companies. In the last five years, the NSF has awarded the College $10.3 million across 11 grants related to computer information systems/cybersecurity education, STEM instruction and 3D printing, setting this mid-sized college apart from its peers.

The recently announced NSF grants will continue WCC’s leadership in classroom instruction and workforce development.

The cyber capacity grant will fund the following activities:

  • Development and implementation of an online option for students who want to enroll in the College’s new BAS degree in IT networking. The in-person BAS program launches fall 2017; the online version is tentatively scheduled to begin fall 2018. The online degree will allow students located outside the region to pursue WCC’s IT networking degree. Improving access to the degree will address the nation’s significant cybersecurity workforce shortage. The new BAS degree in IT networking will build upon Whatcom’s well-established reputation for excellence in the IT networking field and its current curriculum that trains students on emerging cybersecurity topics, industrial control systems (SCADA), and mobile and cloud technologies.
  • Creation of a program to help IT/cybersecurity students who begin at a community college to successfully transition to either the BAS program at WCC or the computer information systems security bachelor’s degree at Western Washington University (WWU). Through a previous NSF grant, WCC staff successfully developed a cybersecurity transfer degree to WWU’s program. Staff in the grant-funded program will coach students as they transition to upper-division academics where they may require additional support in areas such as study skills and communication.
  • Expansion and enhancement of WCC’s high school cybersecurity camps by recruiting regional high schools as program hosts and including national CyberPatriot competitions. The goal is to engage more students in the cybersecurity education pipeline at an earlier age. CyberPatriot is the national youth cyber education program created by the Air Force Association to inspire high school and middle school students toward careers in cybersecurity or other STEM disciplines.  It includes high-level competitions among teams of high school and middle school students.

The cyber capacity grant’s principal investigator is Corrinne Sande, director of computer sciences and information systems/CyberWatch West at Whatcom and a national leader in cybersecurity education. She was selected as the 2016 Pacific Regional Faculty Member Award winner by the Association of Community College Trustees. Co-principal investigators are Janice Walker, dean for workforce education, and Travis McEwen and Christy Saunders, computer information systems program faculty.  The grant begins this month and continues through August 2019.

The second NSF grant received this month by WCC is “EAGER: MAKER: Engaging Math Students with 3D Printing for STEM Success.” By infusing the College’s precalculus II class with 3D curriculum and by adding an optional hands-on lab component, this project will explore if 3D printing helps retain STEM students and improves students’ comprehension of key math concepts. This project will start with math and ultimately broaden to other STEM disciplines.

The two-year grant will also provide funding for software and several new 3D printers that will be used to produce 3D printed materials for classroom use and will expose students to different printer capabilities and opportunities. The College currently has two 3D printers purchased with funds donated by BP. The project’s principal investigator is WCC math faculty Lee Singleton.

The third grant “Collaborative Research: Unifying Science for Students: Investigating transfer within a coherent, interdisciplinary set of science courses” is funded by NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education initiative. The full grant amount for the three-year, collaborative project with WWU is nearly $300,000; WCC’s share is $51,916. Dr. Emily Borda, associate professor of chemistry and science education at Western, and Sara Julin, professor of physics at WCC, will design an integrated science curriculum to study its effect on the long-term transfer of foundational science concepts. The focus will be on ideas about energy, which unite the science disciplines and are emphasized in national standards for pre-college science education.

About Whatcom: Whatcom Community College is a regionally and nationally accredited two-year college with an accomplished faculty and staff who serve 11,000 students annually. On its campus in Bellingham, Wash., and through online courses, Whatcom offers transfer and professional-technical degrees as well as basic education, job skills, and community and continuing education classes. The College will offer a BAS degree in IT Networking beginning fall 2017; students may apply in January. Based on student outcomes, the Aspen Institute ranks Whatcom among the top nine community and technical colleges in Washington state and among the top 150 in the nation. For more information, visit

Contact: Mary Vermillion, Whatcom Community College PIO, 360.383.3310,

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