Rice’s Take Flight program helping community college STEM students soar

Students gather at Rice University to learn about opportunities with a STEM education

Rice University welcomed more than 80 students and 10 faculty members from Lone Star College and San Jacinto College in early December to learn more about its Take Flight STEM Pathway program.

The partnership aims to expand education access and increase the number of students who complete STEM degrees. Take Flight supports students who are not ready to graduate but are interested in pursuing STEM degrees and careers as well as high-achieving STEM students who are graduating and want to pursue a four-year degree.

Students learn more about STEM education
Associate Provost Matt Taylor welcomes local community college students to Rice University. (Photo by Gustavo Raskosky)

Events included a campus tour, presentations by Rice faculty members and Rice students majoring in STEM fields, and opportunities to meet and ask questions of staff members from Rice’s offices of Admission, Academic Advising and Student Success Initiatives.

The day started off with an appearance by Rice President Reginald DesRoches, who spoke of his desire to find the next generation of STEM leaders right here in the Houston area. He also mentioned the importance of community college programs, his own experience as a professor at one and the value he places in working in tandem with local campuses.

Associate Provost Matt Taylor, who leads the Take Flight program, welcomed the students to campus and detailed the perks of participating in the Take Flight program, such as invitations to lectures, conferences and symposia; informational sessions with the Office of Admission; Zoom Q&A sessions with Rice STEM students; and the ability to meet Rice’s STEM faculty. He also underscored the expected need for more STEM majors to fulfill research and industry demand in the coming years.

In the afternoon, Take Flight faculty and staff guests met with Rice faculty from the departments of Chemistry; Biosciences; Physics and Astronomy; and Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences to discuss ways to enhance collaborations among the academic entities and how to strengthen Take Flight students’ transfer applications to Rice and other selective research universities.

The students’ excitement for STEM studies was evident.

Students learn more about STEM education
Local community college students gathered at Rice University in hopes of participating in its Take Flight STEM Pathway program. (Photo by Gustavo Raskosky)

Gerri Esquivel, a Lone Star College sophomore studying speech language pathology, said she is interested in STEM because of her aptitude for math, and she was drawn to Take Flight because she enjoys Rice’s feeling of community.

“It's something that I grew up in,” Esquivel said. “I grew up a little more interested in the sciences and the role my major has in behavioral sciences.”

Christian White, a high school student taking dual-credit classes at San Jacinto College, said he has high hopes that the program will lead to future successes.

“I want to apply to Rice for engineering,” White said. “I like to build things with my hands and assemble robots. I love seeing how we can turn scrap metals into something that can move on its own.”

The Take Flight program originated in the fall of 2020 when then-Provost DesRoches charged Taylor with investigating potential academic partnerships with local community colleges. Taylor established relationships with the leaders of honors and STEM education programs at both San Jacinto College and Lone Star College. He then began exploring two areas of shared interest: joint efforts to secure National Science Foundation grants, and the development of programs to improve disadvantaged students’ preparation for and equitable access to STEM education at Rice and other selective research universities.

“Rice’s investment in these efforts is driven by institutional goals for improving educational equity and access for students from historically excluded and other underserved communities, for serving as a positive partner with local two-year colleges and for attracting talented, diverse students to Rice’s graduate programs,” Taylor said. “These goals also intersect with the desire to increase admission of undergraduate students who come from two-year institutions and to help address the urgent national need for a more diverse STEM workforce.”

Rice launched the pilot phase of Take Flight in February, when Rice faculty selected 25 students from San Jacinto College and Lone Star College to join their labs via a research experiences for undergraduates (REUs) program. REUs allow undergraduates to explore STEM career interests by taking an active role in laboratory research.

In 2023, Take Flight hopes to host 25 new REU students and to see a cohort of Take Flight’s 2022 students admitted to Rice. Take Flight is now a formal program, and a new cohort of participants will be identified each year going forward, Taylor said.

Students learn more about STEM education
Students from Lone Star College and San Jacinto College learned about how to utelize their opportunities with a STEM education. (Photo by Gustavo Raskosky)

Katie Caruso, associate vice chancellor of honors and international education for Lone Star College, expressed her enthusiasm to introduce students to the program.

“We work with students who have chosen to participate in the honors college to earn a high-quality education and to do it right in their community,” Caruso said. “I'm so excited to work with Associate Provost Taylor, who has been a huge advocate in making sure that students who start off at a community college level are able to participate in undergraduate research, which preps them to attend prestigious universities.”

Caruso said Rice is meeting a critical local need by “supporting the very communities in their backyard. Students are coming into community college looking for their next steps, where they can be supported with the types of resources and services this team is offering.”

Rachel Garcia, associate vice chancellor for teaching and learning at San Jacinto College, added: “We have a great opportunity for students to perform science research here at Rice. We realize the potential of our students flourishes when they're in an environment like the one Take Flight offers. We see the potential of our students, given the right knowledge, to go to the next level. We are very excited about getting more students not just doing research but also to gaining access to more opportunities.”