Even as construction workers prepare San Joaquin Delta College's new math and science building, staffers are preparing more than three dozen young freshmen for higher education and -- who knows? -- maybe an adventure in outer space.
Today marks the first day of the fall semester at Delta, and the first day of a five-year, $3.8 million grant-funded academy designed to help low-income and Latino students in science, technology, engineering and math.
The United States has relatively few students seeking jobs in those areas, making it all the more important to train the rapidly growing population of young Latinos.
The $39 million science building isn't quite finished. But it will soon provide learning space for those new students and for thousands of others at Delta.
The end result could be a more educated work force in San Joaquin County.
The new science students attended an orientation last week, highlighted with encouragement from NASA astronaut-turned-politician Jose Hernandez. The story of how he was raised by his migrant worker parents before setting his sights on the stars is one many of these students can relate to.
"I think it's very important our kids get interested in that area (science)," Hernandez said. "Technology is what's going to push this country forward."
Blanca Soria, 18, will be the first member of her family to attend college. Like Hernandez, her parents are migrant workers.
She wants to be a doctor, maybe in a hospital emergency room. That journey begins today.
"This is the first time I've ever gone to any college. I really have no idea what to expect, or what it's like," said Soria, who graduated from Manteca High School earlier this year. "But I think they said we're going to get our own tutors and our own counselors. I think that will help a lot."
Indeed, the grant from the U.S. Department of Education allows Delta to hire nearly two dozen expert students to provide extra instruction and tutoring in fields like chemistry and math, Laura Ochoa-Sanchez told students and their parents at the orientation. She is the coordinator of the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Academy.
The new staff will keep students on a track toward transferring to a four-year college or university. The money also will pay for equipment to go in Delta's new building.
That building will be the biggest single improvement at Delta since the campus was first built in the early 1970s. It is the largest project funded by the college's 2004 Measure L bond.
Originally scheduled for completion over the summer, the building isn't far from it. A third-floor chemistry lab contains cabinets already labeled "flammable." A whiteboard has been hoisted on the wall of another classroom.
Chris Yatooma, Delta's vice president of administrative services, said the building should be finished and occupied in time for spring semester.
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