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Fort Lewis College and San Juan College partnering to produce tomorrow’s scientists

 The FOCUSS program will hopefully encourage more students to earn STEM degrees, like the one the FLC Chemistry Department offers.
The FOCUSS program will hopefully encourage more students to earn STEM degrees, like the one the FLC Chemistry Department offers.

DURANGO, CO - Producing more graduates in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields is becoming increasingly important in a world where advances in these fields are coming faster than ever. This fall the National Science Foundation awarded Colorado’s Fort Lewis College and New Mexico's San Juan College $1.2 million over the next five years to support a partnership between the two institutions to do just that.

The new Four Corners Undergraduate STEM Success (FOCUSS) program will exist to help both FLC and SJC students succeed in earning STEM degrees. The program is designed to help any STEM student, but there is interest in helping Hispanic and Native American students in particular.

Fort Lewis College is already a leader in producing Native American STEM graduates. According to the National Science Foundation, from 2005-09 (latest data available) FLC ranked in the top 2 percent of colleges and universities in the country in the number of science, technology, engineering or math degrees awarded to Native Americans.

The National Science Foundation funding will help support four FOCUSS activities: (1) seminars that bring experts in the STEM disciplines to both institutions to work with students; (2) visits by FLC STEM faculty and students to San Juan College to provide guidance to students looking to pursue their education beyond SJC; (3) an early undergraduate research program that will help expose students to research; and (4) a tutor/mentor program at Fort Lewis College to help sophomore and transfer STEM students find success in their studies and continue on in their degree programs.

The early undergraduate research program in particular is something that has the potential to spark interest in STEM in freshman and sophomore students, as well as teach students to, not only do research, but to also benefit from the fortunate failures that experiments sometimes bring.

“Research often doesn’t go as planned, but unexpected results are the places where we learn new things,” explains Dr. Kim Hannula, associate professor of Geosciences and the FLC representative for the FOCUSS program. “We’re hoping that students will see life lessons in the ways that their mentors deal with equipment that doesn’t work right or unexpected results.

“There’s some research that suggests that students can become more resilient to little failures, like a bad grade on a math exam, by experiencing success in overcoming difficulty in another situation. We want them to see and realize that the things they’ve learned about overcoming hardships make them better scientists.”

The FOCUSS program will hopefully encourage students at San Juan College to continue their educations after graduating, while at the same time showcase the STEM programs at Fort Lewis, some of which rank among the best in the country.

For example, the FLC Chemistry program is in the top 10 in the National Science Foundation’s Mountain Region (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) in the number of graduates who eventually went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. That means that FLC chemistry grads are well prepared for the next stages of their challenging course of study. The high ranking means that Fort Lewis beat out dozens of schools like the University of Idaho, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Another example is the FLC Physics program that recently joined the Falcon Telescope Network, an international team of colleges and universities that will be pointing their telescopes skyward to track and study the hundreds of thousands of objects that orbit our planet.

For more information about the academic programs Fort Lewis College offers, visit

For more information on the Physics & Engineering department, visit

For more information on the Chemistry department, visit


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