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UMBC’s Taka Yamashita receives $1.4 million grant for research supporting workers returning to community college

UMBC’s Taka Yamashita has been awarded a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences for an innovative three-year research project on how adult literacy impacts success in community college STEM education and job training programs. Yamashita is an associate professor of sociology and faculty member in the UMBC/UMB gerontology Ph.D. program. He will explore how the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills of adults (ages 18 and over), can be indicators of career and academic readiness in community college STEM programs.

Meeting workers’ and STEM industry needs

Many workers with limited academic credentials or skills face the need to expand their skill set to fit a rapidly changing STEM-focused labor market. The wide range of skills needed for STEM jobs creates both challenges and opportunities for workers to begin “middle-skill” positions, which do not require four-year undergraduate or graduate degrees. Career training programs can make a significant difference for these workers.

Yamashita notes that community colleges are uniquely positioned to meet the needs of adults who seek STEM skill training. However, in addition to knowledge and work skills, many workers also need to learn the basic skills to manage college level coursework, he explains.

“While community colleges can offer a path, students’ community college readiness may present a barrier to completing the training and entering the STEM workforce,” shares Yamashita. He explains, “Recent national data clearly showed that many of the adults seeking to aquire new new knowledge and skill sets do not have the sufficient basic reading and math skills needed for higher education coursework in the U.S.”

The power of three perspectives

This research project is led by Yamashita, principal investigator; Rita Karam, senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation; and Phyllis Cummins, assistant director of research at Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University of Ohio. The team will gather quantitative and qualitative data from three community college STEM programs. These include programs at Clover Park Technical College in Washington state, Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, and Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana. 

The researchers will assess students’ basic math, reading, and technology skills to predict their academic success in STEM skills training programs. They will also analyze national data and create the first national profile of basic skills across different segments of the adult population for a variety of STEM industries.

“We’re seeking to explore relationships between basic skills, college readiness, and academic outcomes,” says Yamashita. “Our goal is to better understand the underlying themes and/or key factors that are linked to enhanced basic skills and academic success in the STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs.” These findings, Yamashita notes, could have a long-lasting positive impact on current and future workers’ lives as well as the STEM labor market.

Banner image: Yamashita. Photo courtesy of Yamashita.