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Niagara County Community College has been awarded a grant to help educationally and economically deprived students attain college degrees in mathematics, engineering, science and computer science.

Worth about $20,000 in cash and $80,000 in computer equipment, the "Diversity in Engineering Grant" is being used to set up a two-year pilot program. The program will help minority and disadvantaged students succeed in these subject areas and successfully transfer to four-year degree and post-graduate programs, said Marguerite Newton, the NCCC professor of engineering and technology who will direct it.

The grants are awarded by MESA U.S.A. (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement), a group connected with the California University system. They are funded by the National Science Foundation, coupled with contributions in equipment from HP Corp.

NCCC was one of only nine community colleges outside California to receive a MESA pilot program grant this year.

Newton said the school is already preparing separate facilities for the MESA program, which will start up next semester. She also said NCCC has been notifying qualified students -- who show an aptitude for math and science, but possibly not the background or the confidence to major in those areas -- that they are invited to participate.

"Our goal is to have 60 students in the program for two years" and to make it a permanent part of the college's offerings once the two-year pilot project is up, she said.

"Our MESA students will have their own center where they can work together, have study groups, get professional help, and interact with and support each other," Newton said.

HP already has delivered about $80,000 worth of technology for the program. It includes six high-tech desktop computers that will be in the MESA Center in the C Annex Building adjacent to the mathematics and science programs.

"We also have 16 computers that are wireless on a mobile cart which can be used as a tool in the classroom," Newton said.

She cautioned that MESA is not a remedial program.

"It's a intensive program for students who have an aptitude for math and science. But because of insecurity and cultural problems, we are separating them (from traditional students) so they have a chance to succeed," she said.

Newton also said the program is designed to get more American students involved in math and science.

"Right now foreign students are so far ahead in math and science, we have to outsource work in the U.S. because we don't have enough skilled Americans graduating from college," she said. "We have to bolster the country by increasing the pool of American graduates in these areas."


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