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Water Quality Research at UCR May Be Bridge for Community College Students

UCR and Riverside Community College are teaming up to give community college science students research experience

(October 9, 2006)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — — Water quality research may be the bridge that leads Riverside Community College students to careers in engineering through a new collaborative program with the University of California Riverside.

Titled Building Bridges Across Riverside Through Water Quality Research, the program has received a $294,000 three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Building Bridges is headed by UCR Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Sharon Walker; and RCC Assistant Professor of Life Sciences, Heather Smith.

“This is a unique opportunity for talented RCC students to participate in quality research at UCR,” Smith said.

The program seeks to expand the ranks of underrepresented groups in the sciences and engineering by offering them experience in cutting-edge water quality research at UC Riverside. Program leaders hope the experience will prompt more RCC students to transfer to UCR.

“We hope that through active mentoring, an intensive experience in the laboratory and exposure the UCR environment, the students will be motivated to transfer and pursue a degree in engineering or the sciences,” Walker added.

Also reflecting one of the USDA’s goals to enhance and diversify the nation’s scientific and professional work force, the program includes an outreach component focusing on Riverside residents — from elementary school students involved in the science fair, through older aficionados attending a seminar series at RCC.

Today, women make up nearly half the college-educated workforce in America but less than one-fourth of scientists and engineers, according to Science and Engineering Indicators 2004 study. That same lack of representation in the science and engineering workforce also applies to African Americans, who account for only 6.9 percent and Hispanics, who account for 3.2 percent of the science and engineering workforce, according to the study. Both are well below their proportions in the college educated and overall U.S. populations.

So at the heart of the RCC-UCR program is the seamless transfer of promising community college science students to a four-year institution. Along with a research project and regular interaction with a UCR faculty mentor, participating RCC students will have informal research and mentoring from a full-time USDA researcher at the U.S. Salinity Laboratory on the UCR campus.

Participating students will also receive mentorship from members of the UCR chapter of the Society of Hispanic and Professional Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers.

On the outreach front, participating RCC students will be involved in the annual Riverside Unified School District Science and Engineering Fair and with the establishment of a special award titled “USDA Future Environmental Scientists and Engineers Award,” which will be presented at the science fair.

The final outreach component is the development of a seminar series in environmental science and engineering hosted at RCC, where participating RCC and UCR students and faculty will present their projects to the academic and general community.
From Left: Sharon Walker, Heather Smith, with RCC students D.J. Cummings and Jose Avila.Enlarge

From Left: Sharon Walker, Heather Smith, with RCC students D.J. Cummings and Jose Avila.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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