Cantwell: With New Federal Funding, Community Colleges Can Be “Backbone” of STEM Education

November 8, 2022

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

Cantwell-led CHIPS & Science Act directs more than $2 billion to community colleges and minority serving institutions to grow a diverse tech workforce


On Friday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, visited Yakima Valley College (YVC) for a roundtable discussion about STEM education opportunities. Sen. Cantwell and 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. The roundtable was followed by a tour of YVC’s STEM education facilities, including an on-campus lab where students are growing bacteria as part as an ongoing study into antibiotics.

“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. “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.”

Sen. Cantwell in the lab with Yakima Valley College students

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 curricula, 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.

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.

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 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.

Photos and videos of the event at YVC are available HERE. Audio of the roundtable can be found HERE.