San Jacinto College received the Excellence and Equity in Community College STEM Award for its associate degree programs in nursing and process technology, which both aim to prepare graduates for a rapidly changing workforce, according to a Sept. 29 media release.

The award, which was given by The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and the Siemens Foundation, went to seven community colleges and eight programs across the United States that are “providing outstanding preparation for high-demand jobs in advanced manufacturing, energy, health care, and information technology,” per the release.

The eight programs are also being nationally recognized for their intentional outreach and support of diverse, typically underrepresented populations in science, technology, engineering and math careers. San Jacinto College is the only institution to receive the award for two programs.

“San Jacinto College utilizes a holistic approach for equity in access and success to ensure that all students have an opportunity to earn a higher education credential,” Chancellor Brenda Hellyer said in the release. “We are incredibly thankful and grateful to the Aspen Institute and the Siemens Foundation for this award, and for recognizing San Jacinto College faculty and staff for the important work they do every day to ensure our students succeed.”

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies and leadership in a way that improves student outcomes. The Siemens Foundation has invested more than $122 million across the country to advance workforce development and STEM education initiatives.

Each of the college’s winning programs will receive $50,000, with half of the funds allocated for program development and the other half set aside to provide scholarships for high-achieving students, known as Siemens Technical Scholars.

The college’s RN-to-BSN program provides registered nurses with the experience necessary to obtain a bachelor’s degree. San Jacinto College’s program received approval in fall 2019 and welcomed its first class this semester.

Veronica Jammer, the program’s department chair, said the program will help give nurses further credentials, which is necessary in the contemporary health care field given the “real big push” recently to have more nurses with bachelor’s degrees at patient bedsides. Having an RN-to-BSN program will also foster opportunities for research and new leadership positions at the college, she told Community Impact Newspaper.

The college’s associate of applied science program for process technology is the largest of its workforce training programs. Students in the program prepare to become plant operators responsible for equipment, hazards produced by chemicals and the applicable chemistry and physics involved in process technology, per the release.

Students can engage in hands-on training at the college’s central campus due to the recent addition of the LyondellBasell Center for Petrochemical, Energy & Technology, per the release. Skills acquired include reading piping and instrumentation diagrams, operating simulators, and identifying and troubleshooting equipment. Graduates find employment in chemical plants, refineries, wastewater treatment plants, pharmaceutical plants, canneries and more, with entry-level operators averaging $60,000 annually, per the release.

Within the last eight years, more than $60 billion has been invested in new capital in the Houston Port region, per the release; these investments, combined with the realities of a retiring workforce, demand for diversity and new technology have generated a strong labor demand for new employees. To address these workforce needs, the process technology program has increased outreach to high school students and college-age Hispanic and Black students.

The program reaches more than 1,000 high school students each year through facility tours, career fairs, technology showcases and campus STEM events. The program also continues to grow its female student enrollment, currently at 11% of its 25% goal, per the release.

“Community college STEM programs are a strong pathway to job security and financial success for many students, whether that means heading right into a great paying job or getting a more advanced degree,” said David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation, in the release. “This award recognizes the colleges that provide an excellent STEM education and develop talent from every community.”