Located in the high-tech heart of California’s Silicon Valley, Foothill College recently opened its new state-of-the-art Physical Sciences & Engineering Center (PSEC) at the campus in Los Altos Hills. The new center is dedicated to strengthening student mastery of science, technology, engineering and mathematics—also known as STEM—through interdisciplinary teaching and applied learning. The Foothill College PSEC features integrated instructional technology and classrooms; state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment; signature art installations; and unique sustainability features designed to enhance student learning.
The new facility is home to the Foothill College Science & Learning Institute (SLI), an innovative instructional model that draws on educational research and best practices to support successful teaching and learning of STEM-related content. Although based in the PSEC, the SLI curriculum extends across the campus. Foothill’s SLI is an outgrowth of faculty collaboration that took place during the design of the PSEC and discussions about how the new facility could support quality teaching and learning. These conversations inspired an ongoing exploration of how best to engage students in the study of STEM subjects, resulting in new curriculum and a desire to use the Foothill campus and community as living laboratories to give students meaningful hands-on experience.
A key goal of the Science Learning Institute is to increase the university-transfer rates of community college students who are studying STEM subjects, and develop a STEM workforce that is prepared for jobs in computer science, nanotechnology and renewable energy systems.
"The future of Silicon Valley's economy depends upon a workforce that is proficient in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Foothill College President Judy C. Miner, Ed.D. “To fill the jobs that make up our region's unique economy, Foothill College must educate a wide range of students to succeed in STEM-related subjects. Moreover, we need to help our students develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and encourage communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation to enable them to fill the jobs of the future.
“Foothill College is answering this STEM challenge with the Foothill College Science Learning Institute, a bold new initiative that will prepare today's generation for tomorrow's demands. With funding from grants and donors, the institute can make a pronounced and positive influence on our students'—and California's—future,” Miner said.
There is greater demand for science and mathematics training for jobs but fewer degrees are being awarded in these fields. As a result, the U.S. is becoming less competitive globally. To address this issue, visionary community colleges like Foothill College are leading a national effort to retrain laid-off workers and create curricula to educate more students in the sciences, Miner said.
“Foothill’s Science Learning Institute will prepare students with a firm foundation in STEM subjects,” said Physical Sciences, Math & Engineering Division Dean Peter Murray, M.S. “Its teaching strategies and hands-on learning approach will expose students to a new way of thinking, encouraging them to explore the process of science—not just the solution.”
A key element of the SLI is to use the facilities and resources of the 122-acre Foothill College campus as a living laboratory. For example, students enrolled in Foothill’s new Sustainability & Energy Program study the campus energy system, including monitoring and analyzing the actual energy that’s produced by the college’s 1.5MW photovoltaic system. This unique blend of academic study and fieldwork enables students to see real uses of technology, including real-time data. The opportunity to learn from, interact with and apply lessons directly gives Foothill students experiences they could previously only get through extended internships in the upper division of their academic pursuits.
“Foothill has the potential to be the CalTech of community colleges, and the SLI instructional model is a key part of our goal to deliver better educated students into the Silicon Valley workforce,” Murray said. “In addition to increasing the university-transfer rates of students studying STEM subjects, the SLI will develop a STEM workforce that is prepared for Silicon Valley job openings in nanotechnology, renewable energy solutions, computer and network sciences, bioengineering and other critical fields.”
Through generous community and business donations, the SLI will also provide scholarships for STEM summer camps for high school juniors and seniors, Murray said. Foothill’s STEM summer camps will focus on serving women and underrepresented students, two demographic groups whose increased participation are essential to expanding the STEM workforce.
The SLI is strengthened by its partnerships with such organizations as the Gates’ Foundation Global Skills for College Completion, Carnegie Foundation’s Statway Project, National Science Foundation’s STEMWay and Nanotechnology projects, and award-winning campus programs such as Math My Way.
The PSEC facility, which cost approximately $41.6 million, was funded by Measure C, a capital improvement bond approved in 2006 by voters residing in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District. The facility has been designed to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design LEED® silver rating.
Construction of the PSEC began in February 2011 by the Bay Area's Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Company. Emeryville-based Ratcliff Architects developed the award-winning design of the PSEC. In 2009, Ratcliff won statewide recognition with a Community College Facility Coalition Award of Merit for its design of the Foothill College PSEC. All design and structural components of the new facility complement the distinct Pacific-style architecture for which Foothill College is internationally renown.
The PSEC is 65,800 square feet and consists of three buildings. The lab building houses five chemistry labs, two physics labs, a nanoscience lab and a multipurpose lab. The classroom building features six classrooms and two large lecture rooms. The commons area includes conference/multipurpose space, a small cafe and faculty offices.
Parking lots 4 and 5 provide the best access to the PSEC. Visitors must purchase a parking permit for $3 from dispensers in any student parking lot. Dispensers accept one-dollar bills and quarters. Foothill College is located off I-280 on El Monte Road in Los Altos Hills. For more information, access www.foothill.edu or call (650) 949-7200.