Southwestern College Awarded $3.2M S-STEM Grant by National Science Foundation for Chemistry, Biochemistry Students

Southwestern College chemistry students will have an opportunity to create research and gain a mentored pathway to four-year universities, graduate school and STEM careers through a new grant from the National Science Foundation.

The National Science Foundation has awarded Southwestern College and San Diego State University a $5,000,000 S-STEM grant, $3,230,840 of which is awarded to Southwestern College. This program will provide an integrated mentoring and research experience bridging the chemistry and biochemistry programs at Southwestern College with San Diego State to support academically talented, low-income student advancement from bachelor’s degrees to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate programs and careers.

This grant comes with big rewards for Southwestern College students.

The grant will provide up to $10,000 scholarships for up to 30 chemistry and biochemistry students per year for two years. Participants will be mentored by faculty, graduate students, and peers. As part of this program, students will have opportunities to not only participate in cutting-edge scientific research but to attend and present their research at national and regional professional conferences. In addition, students will be offered transfer, career and graduate school application workshops.

“Learning how to do science and conduct research is more like learning how to create art or play an instrument, it’s not simply the short term memorization and subsequent regurgitation of information,” said Dr. David Hecht, a chemistry professor and grant co-Principal Investigator. “My teaching philosophy is that the best way to learn science is to actually do science.”

The project titled “Mentored Pathways from Community College to Graduate School and Chemistry Careers” will be under the direction of Hecht, MESA Director Dr. Mourad Mjahed and Chemistry Professor Alexandra Hofler as well as San Diego State chemistry professors Dr. Regis Komperda, Dr. Byron Purse and Dr. Mikhael Bergdahl.

This grant also provides a select number of students an opportunity to continue this mentored pathway at San Diego State’s chemistry and biochemistry department. These students will have a chance to get a paid summer internship at a San Diego State lab. Students will be assigned a graduate student mentor and a faculty mentor and will continue to be awarded up to $10,000 in scholarships per year for two years.

“Our hypothesis is that having a mentored pathway will increase student success,” Hecht said. “I’m hopeful that we will get more chemistry majors, and students will be able to explore how cool chemistry is and learn about the opportunities chemistry provides.”

Mentoring and research are key pieces in helping chemistry students succeed, Hecht said, by giving students the opportunity to engage with the chemistry material in unique ways and giving students tailored help each step.

“Research has shown that students who participate in undergraduate research not only have better GPAs, but better persistence, and this cuts across socio-economic status, race and gender,” Hecht said. “Everyone who participates in undergraduate research is more likely to succeed, get their degrees and pursue a career in STEM.”

The application for chemistry and biochemistry students will be available in the fall, with the first set of scholarships offered in the spring. Interested students should keep an eye on official Southwestern College communication, like the website and social media, for the application announcement. For more information contact Hecht at