Students cut from STEM

By Samuel Finch / Staff Writer

Outrage (Allison Perez / Photo Editor)

By Samuel Finch / Staff Writer

Fog enshrouded the Martin Luther King Jr. Teaching/ Learning Center on the morning of Oct. 19 as students filed out of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics center through twin glass doors, picket signs in hand and voices raised.

At first they numbered less than a dozen strong, but what they lacked in body they made up for with soul.

Shouts of “Stop the Cuts” and “Bring STEM Back” rang out, echoing across concrete and brick. As time progressed, others stopped and joined.

Adriana Curiel, one of the main organizers of the demonstration, strode through the throng with determination.

“We need to bring a larger awareness to the population,” Curiel said as she handed fliers to  those watching from the periphery. “We’re hoping to reach members in the community by reaching out and using news media.”

Curiel has been a Riverside City College student for the past two years, though she has worked for the college for five years.

“I started off working in the writing center and then I worked as an aide in the math lab,” she said. “Also I’ve worked with tutorial services as a tutor and for the CAP program as a student instructor for two years. Then I started working in the STEM center shortly after it started having mentors.”

Up until the beginning of this semester, Curiel worked as a paid mentor. Then the STEM center was closed.

“They didn’t even give us any notice,” she said. “They didn’t even let the faculty here at the school know that the STEM center was closing. It just closed. It was just gone.”

“Working as a mentor was my only source of income,” she continued. “I paid my own rent, I don’t live at home with my parents like some students are fortunate enough to be able to do.”

But this was not Curiel’s only concern.

“I’m also a single parent,” she said. “I have a daughter that I support. I’ve worked here for five years and I’ve always supported myself and my daughter with that income.”

Despite being effectively laid off, Curiel has continued to serve other students in need.

“I’ve been working as a biology mentor since the beginning of the semester for free. I had a student come to me balling her eyes out because she went to tutorial services and they didn’t have a tutor for her,” Curiel said.

“She went all over the campus looking for tutors and there are none. She told me, ‘I’m not going to be able to pass my class without your help.’ So I told her that I’d talk to her professor and see what I could do.”

With so many individuals affected and so little response from the administration, Curiel gathered former mentors and STEM students to a more vocal platform.

“We don’t want it to be a dirty little secret anymore that the administration can hide,” she said. “We want it to come out in the open and questions to be raised by the rest of the students.”

Standing atop the concrete steps nearby was Marques Dredd, an Air Force veteran who has been an RCC student along with his wife for the past two and half years after being medically retired.

“My main purpose for going into the military was to get out and be an electrical engineer,” Dredd said. He has continued to pursue this goal.

“I’m a big fan of the STEM center and the math lab, because, obviously, as an engineer, math is a pretty big issue,” he said. “If you go up to the math lab right now, it’s ridiculous. There’s like two tutors and sometimes the tutors don’t specialize in what I’m doing.”

“And then we heard that they closed the STEM center,” Dredd said. “I could understand if they had to close all of the STEM centers, if it was some issue with a grant or something, but it’s just our campus. We’re the main college and yet the Moreno Valley College and the Norco College STEM centers are still open.”

Dredd reflected on the reasons he enjoyed the STEM center so much.

“The STEM center is really an opportunity for students to interact with other students,” he said.

“They get their confidence up, they’re talking more, meeting people who are in the same field and learning about other fields.”

“That’s what made it such an unfair thing to cut. The STEM center was working for a lot of people,” Dredd said.

As the protests wound down, Dredd looked upon those remaining with hope.

“I just wanted to be out here to do my part because that’s important. If you don’t do your part, nothing is going to change.”