Heritage University Earns $2.6 Million to Grow STEM Programs - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Heritage University Earns $2.6 Million to Grow STEM Programs

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TOPPENISH, WA - Heritage University in Toppenish is the recipient of a $2.6 million grant. The federal grant is issued through the U.S. Department of Education's title V and will be used to grow STEM programs on campus. 

To qualify, the institution must be "Hispanic-serving" meaning there has to be at least a 25% Hispanic enrollment. Heritage University has a 60% Hispanic enrollment, but that's not reflected in STEM programs. 

"If you're first generation, your parents didn't go to college and nobody has told you about college and what it has to offer. So that's why they get underrepresented in the STEM fields," said Dr. Melvin Simoyi, Associate Director at Heritage. 

The grant will be used to grow programs in engineering, nursing, biology and computer science, with an emphasis on hands-on experience, which Dr. Simoyi says is crucial in the real world.  

"Most of the time students learn the theory and so forth and when they go out into the world, they cannot deal with the situations," added Dr. Simoyi. 

And students like San Juanita Valdez, who's working toward her degree in biomedical science will get that much needed experience right now.  

"We can adapt our labs to what equipment we do have but it makes it so much easier and it flows easier when you have the appropriate equipment and materials," said Valdez.

Getting heritage university closer to their goal of "producing better workers and better graduates" said Dr. Simoyi. 

The federal grant will be used over the next 5 years.