Podcast with Dr. Bjorn Mercer, Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts and
Dr. Danny Welsch, Associate Dean, School of STEM, and
Dr. Shelli Carter, Faculty Director, School of STEM
The principles of STEM are integrated into so many of today’s jobs in often surprising and exciting ways. In this episode, Dr. Bjorn Mercer talks to American Public University STEM professors Drs. Danny Welsch and Shelli Carter about their own career paths and their work as educators to find creative and unique ways to teach STEM in the online classroom. Learn about some of the hesitations students often have about pursuing a degree in STEM, and how success in STEM isn’t about “smarts” as much as putting in hard work to develop an innovative and problem-solving mindset that can then be applied to nearly any career field.
Listen to the Episode:
Read the Transcript:
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: My name is Dr. Bjorn Mercer, and today we are talking to Dr. Shelli Carter, Faculty Director at the School of STEM and Dr. Danny Welsch, Associate Dean in the School of STEM. And our conversation today is an introduction to studying STEM, and welcome Shelli.
Dr. Shelli Carter: Thank you for inviting us, Bjorn.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Of course. And of course welcome, Danny.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Thanks Bjorn, I’m excited to be here.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Yeah, definitely. And so my first question, just to jump in, is what is STEM? So Danny go ahead and take it away.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Sure, STEM is an integrated study of science, technology, engineering, and math. And the order in which it’s presented there is really just based on what makes the easiest word. The fact that it’s integrated is important because mathematics is the language of science.
And this is something I didn’t realize when I was a kid, but math is used to describe science. And technology and engineering are essentially applied sciences, so you take the pure science that you learn in science programs and you apply that to develop new technologies and to solve engineering problems. So that’s why it’s four disciplines that are integrated together very tightly.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Thank you for the response. And Shelli, what did you want to add to what is STEM?
Dr. Shelli Carter: Well, I think Danny did a great job addressing how they’re very interconnected, and I think that is increasingly common in the workforce that we see today.
You will have multi-disciplinary teams of STEM professionals working together, and because of that, they do need some common understanding. So in addition to math being the language of STEM, an engineer needs to understand the way a scientist examines a problem just as a scientist often needs some basic understanding of how an engineer deconstructs to a specific solution.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. And for both of your backgrounds, Danny, describe your background and how it applies to STEM, how it is STEM, I should say. And then the different aspects of your background that really relate to the skills and competencies that you use daily.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Sure, I’d be happy to. And that’s an interesting question because I didn’t actually think of myself as a scientist until I got into my doctoral program. And that’s because throughout my educational journey, I had touched on all of the different flavors of STEM, but had never really settled into one of those four discipline areas.
So my undergraduate degree is in this nebulous program called environmental analysis and planning, which doesn’t, on the surface sound very sciency, but it is. It was a combination of environmental science and environmental engineering, but because no one actually came out and told me I was studying science, I didn’t really think of myself as a scientist.
And then when I got into my master’s degree, I was in an environmental engineering program, but it was interesting because most of the things that I was doing in that program were not what you would consider traditional engineering, but were more along the lines of pure science. And this is where I started to recognize the relationship between math and science.
It was during my master’s degree that I started to do some computer modeling and some numeric modeling to solve interesting scientific problems. And I realized that, “Hey, you can actually take the world and break it down into a pretty simple series of equations and use those equations to describe what you’re seeing, and you can do experiments that way.”
And I thought that was really exciting, and that was actually the revelation that made me want to continue graduate study at the doctoral level.
And then as I moved to my doctorate at the University of Virginia, I really at that point discovered, first of all, that I was a scientist, even though my advisor was an engineer, which was very interesting. And that I actually really felt immersed in the process of science.
And that wasn’t necessarily because I was in an environmental science department, but I realized that all of the people that I was interacting with and all the work that I was doing was following this logical process of science that Shelli touched on. And that was really when it occurred to me, “Hey, I’m doing science and I’m a scientist.”
Which is interesting because as a kid, I never thought I’d be a scientist, I wanted to be a chef. And now looking back on it, I see there’s huge similarities between cooking and science. And, in fact, there’s a whole field of the science of food and the science of cooking, which I find fascinating.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: That is fascinating. And if it’s okay, I’m going to grab that phrase you just said, “Hey, I’m doing science and I’m a scientist.”
Dr. Danny Welsch: Sure.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I’m going to get that made for my kids. Now, Shelli, same thing, what was your background? What did you study? How did that apply to your jobs and your current career?
Dr. Shelli Carter: I think my journey was almost the reverse of Danny’s. So I, from the time I was little was going to be a scientist. I was the kid that found a dead bird in the yard and proceeded to dissect it on the back porch.
And I went to undergraduate school convinced I was going to be a bench researcher. I actually wanted to clone dinosaurs, very Jurassic Park-y, Michael Crichton. Went through graduate school, doing what I would call pure research. It was basic research focused on disease models, but we were nowhere close to being near a medical cure, so I was a molecular biologist, a bench scientist.
And then towards the end of graduate school, I decided that that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, because all of the bench scientist I knew in academia spent their entire careers studying just one thing, and I like to learn too many different things.
And as a result of that, I moved into a completely different direction and I went to work for the government. And while with the government, I functioned as a research scientist, but, well, no, my title was research scientist, but I was fundamentally a project manager.
And as a project manager, the end-focus was more what I would consider an engineering one. We had a very narrow window of time to come up with a solution. And there was no way we were ever going to know everything we needed to know about a problem, which is very important to the scientist. And instead we just needed to get to the best solution we could in a set window of time and for a set amount of money. And that opened me up more to that sort of practical focus that many engineers have.
But at the same time, I ended up doing a lot of work with colleagues who were mathematicians and functioning as analysts because, as was already mentioned, with mathematics being sort of the integrated feature through STEM, I could speak their language. Or I at least could follow along a little bit as they were trying to explain the models they were using to analyze different situations. And so that’s how I kind of took a different spin on the integration of STEM.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I love that you’re both talking about math being the one thread throughout all of the science fields. Now to follow up on this and as you’re teaching STEM, what are some misconceptions when it comes to studying STEM? Say when students first arrive or they start majoring in one of the STEM programs, what are common misconceptions?
Dr. Danny Welsch: I think one of the most common misconceptions is that STEM is really hard and that you have to be really smart. So if you think about the phrases that are used to describe things that are difficult, it’s rocket science or it’s brain surgery, these are typically STEM fields.
So I was really surprised when all of a sudden I realized that I was a scientist doing science because I never really felt like I was a terribly strong student. So that’s one of the reasons why I never would have thought that I would have been a scientist because I figured only really, really smart people get to be scientists.
And it turns out that that’s not really true. I mean, it helps, but probably the biggest predictor of success as a student in a STEM program isn’t how smart you are, it’s how hard you’re willing to work.
Now, beyond that, the other piece of advice or the big surprise is you will have to learn math. That was something that no one ever told me until I got into graduate school. In order to be a scientist, you will have to take math and be comfortable with it.
And I was surprised going through my undergrad because I really didn’t have to take very much math, and I feel like my undergraduate university did a disservice by not reinforcing that early on. And it wasn’t until I got into graduate school and started taking some upper level math and realized that this is useful because it lets me do things that are cool and that I care about, that I really started to embrace math. But it’s hard to be a STEM student without developing a certain comfort level with mathematics.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Now without comparing, say music and math directly, and you play trombone, right Danny?
Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, I do.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I would say compare the difficulties of math with the difficulties of music. So many people don’t even want to try to play music, play guitar, play piano, because they think it’s so hard as an adult, but it’s one of those things that if you practice and you study slowly and you realize that improvement is very, very incremental, that after a month, six months, a year, two years, you will show great improvement. Is that a good comparison to math?
Dr. Danny Welsch: It is. It’s actually a very good comparison because at their core, both music and math are languages. They’re a set of notation that’s used to describe something, and in music it’s describing sound and in mathematics is describing physical processes.
And that is not something that you can pick up overnight, and it’s not even something that you can pick up over a year. If you think about how adults learn languages, it takes a really long time. And that’s because our brains are adapted to learn languages when we’re really young, which is why we try and start kids in music programs when they’re really young, they learn it quicker.
But it is something that you can develop a comfort level with if you are willing to put the time and effort into it. And I wasn’t through my bachelor’s degree, but when I got into my master’s and found that math was useful, then I could really put the time and effort in to slowly get comfortable with it. I wouldn’t say that I’m good at math, I can muddle my way through now, but I recognize the importance of it.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Well, I think that’s a great comment is how a scientist, such as you, says, “I’m not that great at math, but you are.” It’s that self-critique that we all have. But now Shelli, same thing, what are some misconceptions you encounter with students who are studying STEM?
Dr. Shelli Carter: So I think that a lot of students do come into STEM fields or are possibly interested in STEM fields, but as Danny said, they get scared away by this sort of mystique associated with STEM.
But I like to argue that fundamentally humans are all scientists. I mean, we don’t necessarily think out all of the steps of problem solving in the same rigid way that we learned the scientific method, but really that’s what our brains are doing. We’re looking around, we’re identifying a problem, we’re coming up with potential solutions and then we are testing those solutions.
Why do my lights go out? Well, is it because I have no electricity or is it because I need to change the light bulb? That’s fundamentally an application of the scientific method. And students come in and they’re like, “Wow, it’s too scary. I could never learn all these steps.” Or, “Oh, you have to break it down.”
And very similar to the music discussion, I am not a musician, but you step-wise, you learn the notes first, you learn the very basics of the scientific method. You’re then going to go to more complicated problems.
And science is a way for us to see the uniformity in the world around us, and math is a way for us to see the uniqueness in the world around us. I mean, if we think fundamentally what statistics are about, they’re telling us how we’re all unique individuals. And biology and STEM fields are trying to find the commonalities so we can come up with solutions, but we also need to appreciate the magic of each individual person.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. And so for my next question is: What are the different skills and say, competencies that you acquire by studying STEM and in STEM programs?
Dr. Danny Welsch: I think probably one of the biggest skills is problem solving and critical thinking. When Shelli was just talking about some of the misconceptions about becoming a scientist or a STEM student and how it is in our fundamental nature to do this, I was thinking about auto mechanics. And you don’t necessarily think of auto mechanics as being scientists, but they actually have mastered probably one of the most difficult skills to master that it takes in order to become a scientist or really a practitioner in any STEM field, and that is problem solving.
You take your car into your mechanic and you say, “It’s making this weird noise that goes clunk, clunk, clunk when I go down the road.” And that’s all they have to go on, they have to solve that problem. They have to diagnose exactly what’s going on using their knowledge of the systems that exist in the car, and then they have to plan out a solution. And that’s really what scientists do every day, we problem solve.
I can’t tell you the number of things that I have done in the practice of science that I never thought I would have to do. I had to learn to weld. I had to learn to build circuits. I had to learn how to do carpentry.
These aren’t necessarily things that you think that scientists would have to do, but you have to solve problems. I had to learn carpentry because I had to build cabinets to house instruments that didn’t have any cases. I had to find ways to make things waterproof that were never designed to be outside. So these are all things that you do as a scientist, which I think are fun. That’s the part of it that I really enjoy is just the continuous process of solving problems in order to advance the study of science, technology or engineering.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. And Shelli, same question, what are some different skills and competencies that you’ve acquired in your STEM programs?
Dr. Shelli Carter: Well, I think Danny did a great job at hitting the two biggest ones that I think STEM majors and STEM graduates have, but I would also say that I don’t know a STEM professional that doesn’t have perseverance and versatility.
So perseverance, some days the practice of science is nothing but sheer stubbornness, “I’m going to do this one more time to get it to work. I’ve got to come up with a solution, I’m going to try it a different way.” What is the quote about Edison and how many different he discovered that you don’t use to make a light bulb.
And then versatility from the stance of once you are trained to a particular degree in any STEM discipline, you can apply that mindset in that problem-solving approach and that critical thinking to different problems.
That was particularly true for me in my career. I left molecular biology, biomedical bench research, and I project managed everything from advanced materials to a virtual reality program, simply because of how I had been trained to approach problems.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Bjorn, one of the other big misconceptions about science or being a STEM student, I really think has to do with writing. People think when they get into science or especially math and some of the more really technical fields they’re not going to have to write, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
When I was in my master’s degree, one of my favorite professors, his favorite saying was, “Scientists are just writers who do a lot more work upfront.” And he’s completely right, because if you look at the scientific method and the process of science, that last step really is communication.
And if you can’t tell people about the great work that you’ve done, it’s not going to have much of an impact, that impact is greatly reduced. So you really have to be able to communicate your work and for better or worse, right now that communication is primarily through the written word.
So you have to not only be able to solve problems and just do great work, but you also have to write about it and tell people about what you’ve done at the end, but also along the way. If you’re a university scientist, you have to write proposals in order to get the money to actually start the project, so you have to write at the beginning, you probably have to write a little bit during, but then you have to write a lot at the end, too. So scientists are just writers who do a lot more work before they actually have a finished product.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I absolutely love that because two of the top five skills that all employers are looking for are oral communication and written communication. Oral is always above because people want people who can talk and be able to communicate information in a clear and easy to understand manner.
And of course, written communication. It is how we communicate. It’s how we communicate complex ideas. Especially when you go into fields like STEM, like you said, that aren’t usually associated with writing, being able to write is a differentiator, and that will really help you, say, stand out in the crowd.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, and it’s not something that a lot of STEM students are particularly good at or think they need to be good at, which is disappointing. But we’re working to change that, so hopefully we’ll be able to produce some great scientists.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Here’s a side question for both of you, when students are younger, say in high school, or even below that, how do students get interested in STEM?
And the reason I say that is that there’s a lot of cultural, white noise out there. And so I’m going to make a generalization that, say science technology, say STEM is usually not one of those fields that gets a lot of encouragement and it’s better over the last, say generation, but why do you think that is? And then, is there enough encouragement for women to go in STEM?
Dr. Shelli Carter: Based off that segue, I will go first as the female representative here. So, I will confess to at times having overlooked that aspect of women not being as prevalent in science. I was fortunate in that biology is one of the few STEM disciplines that has always been more on parity, especially when I was in school, in graduate school, the department was actually predominantly women, so that was an invaluable support network and role models for me to see.
I can harken back to Mattel and the uproar over Barbie saying, “Oh, math is hard.” And now we have different representation of women and underrepresented groups such as minorities. And even from childhood, I think childhood is where we start thinking about STEM and making it clear that it’s okay, and that you’re not going to be this nerdy person with bad skin and glasses sitting in the basement coding all night, which for right or wrong, is one of the misperceptions, especially of our IT colleagues.
There’s so much about the world that is STEM-related, and I think working to integrate it more with the arts, in particular, is a way that we perhaps can make it more palatable to the average person and more of an acceptable career field, no matter what your interests are.
I know with a lot of schools moving virtually lately, even from grade school up, students and teachers are becoming more creative on projects. I know of homeschool students who have done projects on the physics of dance and they used black lights and LED lights on a dancer and recorded a session and then broke it down into the physics of motion.
And integrating those and making it clear that you can have multiple loves if you will, and it’s perfectly okay. You can be a dancer and you can be a STEM professional if that’s what you wish, that’s a great way that we can broaden our exposure and acceptance in society in general.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, I don’t know how I can build on that. But I think one of the biggest factors that opens STEM opportunities when kids are young is the presence of a mentor or a champion or a role model. So breaking this idea that STEM fields are dominated by white men or that they have to be dominated by white men.
Showing kids STEM practitioners and STEM professionals that look like them that are successful and that are fun and that are enjoying their work and that have persevered and showed that it’s possible, that is something that I think we need to try and do more of in order to broaden the diversity of all STEM fields.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. I would also add to that, well, of course, anybody can go into any field, and to encourage people to go into STEM, I think is extremely important. Because, first of all, the jobs, the jobs of the future, so many of them are in STEM and there’s so many different topics we can go in, but also in education.
And I know primary and secondary education has always so tough because there’s a lot of stress and a lot of what’s required of teachers in those grades, but you could literally have a STEM lesson with anything.
For example: music. You can talk about how music is math. Even in football, you can talk about the physics of two players running into each other. I mean, there’s just so many opportunities with everyday occurrences, with hurricanes, you can talk about the science of hurricanes.
Even something like if you have a gun fire, you can talk about, again, the physics and the science of guns being discharged. To me, it’s one of those things where with a little more effort you can incorporate STEM in the teaching of virtually every subject in primary and secondary education.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, very easily. And that’s actually one of the most exciting things about what I get to do now is finding creative ways to incorporate STEM and teach STEM disciplines in ways that have never been done before, because we teach STEM courses in a way that really we’re kind of breaking new ground. We teach biology in a fully online framework. We teach engineering in a fully online framework, chemistry in a fully online framework.
So finding ways to translate things that have been done in a face-to-face way, using pretty much the same labs for a couple of hundred years into a completely new modality, using a completely new set of tools, but still trying to make sure that we’re teaching students the same things. That’s something that I find to be really exciting and lets me be creative in a way that I never really thought that I would.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent, and that leads me to the last question is, what are different jobs that are available in STEM? Of course, STEM a very, very broad field.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Wow, I’d say almost any job, to be honest. I don’t know, Shelli, you want to jump on that?
Dr. Shelli Carter: I was going to say, what job is not available to a STEM professional? Let’s take an artist, for example, I know several chemistry professionals whose passion is isolating natural pigments from the world around them. So they’re using their scientific understanding to make beautiful pigments that they then paint with. So I think a STEM professional can do anything they want to do.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, absolutely. I have a good friend who’s an atmospheric chemist and his hobby is the chemistry of glazes for pottery so he actually makes his own glazes, so there’s tremendous overlap there.
But I know people with STEM degrees that are doing all kinds of things, and I think if you go through a STEM program, it really shows that you can work hard and that you can think critically and that you can solve problems. And those are skills that are in demand in any discipline.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: And that’s good, because when you have students who get other degrees, say liberal arts, we always encourage those students to be expansive and to really think about what jobs they can get and to not limit themselves, and it’s good to hear that STEM is the same.
And one of the great collaborations I always think of is between STEM and say philosophy. To really think about kind of the deeper questions in life and how different actions and different discoveries within the STEM fields can really have an impact on fellow humans.
And this brings me to one of my follow-up questions is, why is, say scientific literacy so important, just for your average person? And I asked that because with climate change and different things like that, why do you think there’s such kind of a gap in some people’s knowledge and understanding of science and the science that is out there.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Oh, that’s a great question, and it’s very timely too. I think scientific literacy is critical because so much of our lives depends on it, and we see that right now with the pandemic. The reason that science is difficult for a lot of people to wrap their mind around is because it’s not a certainty, science evolves and it’s supposed to that’s the process of the scientific method.
So what might be considered hard science today, in a week might be found to have been wrong and then the advice or the guidance provided by that science might have to change and evolve based on the results.
So science is not a static process, it is by definition, something that changes and evolves and improves. And that can be something that is difficult for people to accept sometimes, where we really like things to be set in stone and not change.
Dr. Shelli Carter: I would add on a little bit and say, I don’t think there is a decision that a person needs to make in society today that doesn’t have some connection to STEM. If you are voting on whether or not to approve a new infrastructure project in your local community, well, that’s going to have environmental impacts. That’s going to have impacts on traffic, which is then going to impact climate change.
If you’re trying to decide what to buy in the grocery store, do you buy something labeled organic? Do you buy something that’s fortified with vitamins and minerals? Ultimately it’s STEM disciplines that gave us the information which may or may not be being used accurately to influence those purchasing decisions.
But I certainly think that STEM professionals and practitioners could do a better job of explaining their information in a broader context. That’s something that we’re passionate about in the School of STEM here is ensuring our graduates think about STEM historically and contextually and how you can’t actually remove STEM from society. STEM drives society, society’s needs drive STEM and inventions and changes. And it’s just this big interconnected, organic organism if you will, that you really can’t take one part away.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: I absolutely love that because you can’t take it away, and as with anything, you have to be able to communicate and really advocate for what you’ve done or say what your job is, and that’s of course important in STEM. And so we’re almost at the end here, and Danny and Shelli, would you like to highlight some of the programs we have here at American Public University.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, I think one of our most interesting programs is actually one that I’m pretty passionate about because I helped to build it, which is our bachelor’s degree in natural sciences. This is actually a pretty fascinating program because it is entirely online, and I don’t think there’s another one like it in the country.
In this program, students get a really solid grounding in literature, writing, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology, and it’s all done completely online. The program is pretty unique in that we use a variety of different lab tools. So we actually use lab kits in some cases, we use digital instrumentation that shipped out to students. We use virtualizations, we use some robotic labs, so we really use some neat creative solutions to address the laboratory issue.
If you think about a science lab, you think about physically going into a room with benches and equipment and sitting there and doing a lab. And you’re often limited by the amount of time you have, or the safety factors related to some of the experiments that you would be using, or some of the chemicals, maybe you’re a little grossed out by some of the dissections, that sort of thing, we can actually get around all of that.
And in some of our labs, you can do things that would be unsafe to do in a traditional face-to-face way. If you’re really interested in what happens when you mix calcium carbide and water, which produces acetylene gas by the way, which is highly flammable, it’s the same reaction that they use in welding torches.
You can actually do that in a simulated environment that is completely safe, and it lets you follow your curiosity where you’re not bound by cost or safety or money, as long as you recognize that those limitations do still exist. So that’s something that we really strive for in our natural sciences program, which I think is pretty exciting.
Dr. Shelli Carter: I’m going to go to the other end of the spectrum, by which I’m going to highlight our program that is focused on outside of earth. We actually have a bachelor’s and a master’s program in space studies, which is really cool and interesting to think about. That’s a definitely a burgeoning field and job opportunities, there are courses that touch upon space law and space entrepreneurship.
And similar to what Danny mentioned with things that we typically think of as a traditional face-to-face setting, you need certain tools and equipment. Our space studies program is actually set up so that students can spend time on our very large telescope based out of Charles Town, West Virginia collecting data on the universe.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent, thank you for highlighting those programs. So we’re at the end and any final words, Shelli?
Dr. Shelli Carter: I would say just don’t be afraid of STEM. We’re nice people, we put out nice graduates who know how to do lots of interesting and cool things.
Dr. Danny Welsch: Yeah, I would agree. Just don’t rule out any science or technology programs, engineering, if it’s something that you think you are remotely interested in, look into it, pursue it, take a couple of classes. Don’t think that you’re not smart enough because it’s probably not true. You just have to be willing to work hard, and I know that most people are. So if it’s something that you really want, I think it’s probably within your grasp.
Dr. Bjorn Mercer: Excellent. Well, I’d like to thank Dr. Shelli Carter and Dr. Danny Welsch for talking to us today about an introduction to studying STEM, and of course my name was Dr. Bjorn Mercer.
About the Speakers
Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music.
Danny Welsch, Ph.D., is the Associate Dean of the School of STEM at American Public University. He holds a B.S. in Environmental Analysis and Planning from Frostburg State University, an M.S. in Environmental and Resource Engineering from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia.
Dr. Shelli Carter is a Faculty Director in the School of STEM at American Public University. She has a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Alabama and a MS in Education-Instructional Design from Purdue University. She has worked in private forensics, as a subject matter expert with the MITRE Corporation, and as a government research scientist and project manager. Dr. Carter has taught and designed courses from the community college to university level.