National Science Foundation Awards Grant to GRCC Physical Sciences Department Funds Will Enhance the College’s Chemistry, Science Outreach Programs

With this grant, NSF encourages projects that have the potential to transform undergraduate STEM education by bringing about widespread adoption of classroom practices that embody understanding of how students learn most effectively.

Grant funds will help complete GRCC’s state-of-the-art chemistry lab with the purchase of a new gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) system for the chemistry courses at the college.  “GRCC students taking all levels of chemistry courses will benefit, as faculty will incorporate experiments across their curriculum to give students hands-on use of this instrument,” said Jennifer Batten, head of the GRCC physical science department.  

According to Batten, the physical science faculty at GRCC has worked consistently to offer students a science education that includes hands-on experience with modern analytical instrumentation, which is unique to for a community college and even for many four year colleges and universities.  “We believe that the incorporation of instrumentation into our curriculum provides a more in-depth and real world experience for our students and allows them to transition more easily to transfer institutions and the workforce” she said.         

Scientists tout the GC-MS system as one of the most powerful pairings of two techniques because it helps bridge the qualitative and quantitative aspects of chemistry.  The uses for GC-MS are numerous and extensive, especially in the medical, pharmacological, environmental, and law enforcement fields, and its applications range from drug detection, to fire investigation, environmental analysis and explosives investigation.   

As a partner with the college’s chemical technology program, Gentex Corporation has some interest in what this means for GRCC and the community.  “Independent research students in particular will have the opportunity to use this instrument to expand their ability to analyze complex samples from either reaction or environmental mixtures, allowing them to work more efficiently in the laboratory while increasing their knowledge of GS-MS and their research project,” said Sue Franz, head of chemical research at Gentex,  “This NSF grant gives GRCC’s chemistry program a major boost.” 

“For Michigan to be competitive in the global economy, it’s critical our workers have the right skills and training opportunities to help our businesses create the jobs of the future here in Michigan,” said U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow.   “Grand Rapids Community College, in partnership with Gentex Corporation, is rising to that challenge by preparing students with the knowledge and the skills to match the needs of emerging high-tech industries.”

GRCC’s chemistry faculty will begin to introduce the important analytical technique of GC-MS to general chemistry students during the Winter 2013 semester.   “Students will then work to deepen their understanding and ability to operate the GS-MS system in their organic chemistry courses starting in Fall 2013,” said Bernard Liburd, GRCC chemistry professor. 

Beyond the GRCC campus, this grant and the acquisition of the GS-MS system will also help GRCC to strengthen its partnership with local high school students and faculty. “College and high school faculty will have the opportunity to participate in professional development training to advance their understanding of the operation and classroom application of GC-MS,” said Liburd.

“And while GRCC has long participated in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) events and activities as part of our community outreach,  this grant and the acquisition of the GC-MS will allow us to expand these offerings,” said Batten.   “This is important because the offerings will include summer camp activities that provide in-depth, hands on experiences with advanced instrumentation to local high school students who are considering careers in the STEM disciplines.”

Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for over 30,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several additional locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.  GRCC’s Chemical Technology program provides high quality training for students preparing to work in independent or government laboratories or in firms engaged in the development, production, sale or use of chemical products.  The NSF grant reference number is  #1140509.


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