The Community College of Denver wants to discover something in its own science labs -- more people like Lorena Luna.
"I'm a science girl," Luna said. "That's what people call me now, especially all my friends."
She is a third-year Hispanic student at the Community College of Denver. With a life-long goal of becoming a veterinarian, Luna has always loved the sciences, hence her nickname of "Science Girl."
"It's something to be proud of," Luna said. "I'm actually the first one to be in college from my family."
The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Community College of Denver a $3 million grant to find more students like Luna because of the low numbers of Hispanics currently in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields through a program called "STEM Sirviendo".
"Given the growth in Colorado's population, we here at CCD see it not only as an opportunity but really as a responsibility," Dr. Heidi Loshbaugh, Dean of Math and Science, said. "This is our community and CCD is here to serve that community."
Loshbaugh says her school is proud to be the only community college in Colorado to receive this 5-year federal grant. She says the school will create programs and opportunities to encourage Hispanic students to explore STEM fields.
"We will have professional development for faculty and staff so that they better understand how to reach out with culturally relevant instruction," Loshbaugh said.
Luna says part of the problem is a cultural one within the Hispanic community.
"At first, people think we can't do it, especially like the older generation," Luna said. "They think that we are just meant to work like hands on. When in reality, we could with our minds, with our interests."
Loshbaugh says this program is significant because it will generate more chances for students from all sorts of background to have access to pathways in science and math. The grant will be used to establish transfer partnerships with 4-year schools for Hispanic STEM students.
"Community colleges are very important to ensure that middle-class families and families with lesser means have access to 4-year education," Loshbaugh said. "They start here. They can go anywhere."
Luna says she likes the idea of finding more Hispanics who want to be another "science girl" or "science boy".
"Being the different one and showing others that if I can do it, anyone else can," Luna said.