STEM Students' Golden Opportunity

A group photo of STEM students.
By Greg MacDonald

April 04, 2024 - 01:59 PM

STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Math) students at Mt. SAC have a golden opportunity.

The college received a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Advanced Technological Equation Program (ATE), and Mt. SAC plans to support 80 students through the first four years of the project. So far in the first three years, 54 students have been assisted in their research opportunities, in earning an extra $5,000, and/or in transferring to four-year schools.

Holly Shafer is one of those students.

“I completed the program in the summer of 2022,” Shafer said. “My research was done under the mentorship of Dr. Shane Ardo at the University of California Irvine. It was focused on electrochemistry: an exciting marriage of concepts from physics and chemistry.

“Additionally, I was presented with the opportunity to share my findings at the NSF-ATE PI conference in Washington, DC. The program and poster presentation in DC fostered a confidence in me that I brought back to the Mt. SAC community.”

Much like project directors Dr. Iraj Nejad and Dr. Alvin Kung, Shafer works on campus to enhance the educational advancements of Mt. SAC students.

“I am now the President of the Mt. SAC Society of Women Engineers, which has officially become affiliated with the parent organization this year,” Shafer said. “I worked to send 18 Mt. SAC students to the WE23 conference last October.

“I strongly believe in building a presence for community college students within professional spaces that normally feel reserved for universities.”

With her university-level research complete, Shafer credits this project for paving the way for her to transfer to either UC Berkeley or UC Irvine this fall.

“Mt. SAC does an excellent job of preparing students for transfer because they offer programs like the NSF-ATE,” she said. “Unfortunately, this is not something that every community college in the country has access to. Since it is available here, students should not hesitate to seek it out.”

Like Shafer, students who seek it out can expect to be challenged, transformed, and rewarded.  

“I went from being a reserved, shy individual to someone who was confident in their abilities,” she said. “It wasn't easy, however. There were still days that I felt I wasn't deserving of my spot because I struggled to see myself as a scientist.

“The support I received from my peers within the lab, the students in my cohort, and of course, my mentors, helped to shape my internal dialogue into one that was more beneficial to me.”

With her educational journey supercharged, Shafer is grateful for the boost this program – and the people responsible for it –  provided her.

“This program would not exist if it weren't for the help of everyone involved in the writing of the grant,” she said. “At Mt. SAC, we are surrounded by people who genuinely care about the growth of those they represent. Let us continue to nurture a space in which community college students can feel empowered through their academics and close the gap of belief that students coming from community college are not as prepared as those who attended university from the start.”

STEM students interested in the program are encouraged to apply by April 9 at or contact Dr. Nejad ( and Dr. Kung (