Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative

The Smoky Mountain STEM Collaborative, under the leadership of Southwestern Community College, provides opportunities for K-12 and community college students in southwestern NC to participate in outreach and research activities on the Appalachian State Campus. In addition, the project seeks to increase capacity for community college faculty to teach astronomy; a sequence of six graduate courses will be offered over summers in 2017 - 2019 to provide graduate level coursework for those faculty.  

Summer Research Opportunities

The Smoky Mtn. STEM Collaborative team is led by Matt Cass, science chair at Southwestern Community College.  Cass is a two-time graduate of Apppalachian, completing his bachelor's degree in physics in 2004 and a master's in applied physics in 2006.  Joining Matt are several faculty from Appalachian including Dr. Michael Briley, Dr. Dan Caton, and David Sitar of Physics and Astronomy and Dr. Renè Salinas and Dr. Trina Palmer of Mathematical Sciences. Faculty provide a variety of experiences, including mentoring of community college students in activities related to science professions.  

In year one, student James Howe worked with faculty during a four week research experience on the Appalachian campus.  He joined David Sitar and Hunter Stark in presenting a poster  at the North Carolina Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers.  The presentation, titled Using RSpec for an Introductory Bright Star Spectroscopy Lab Activity, shared a laboratory exercise devleoped to use RSpec lfor analyzing chemical compositions of bright stafs using imaging spectra.  

The project is currently seeking promising community college students from Southwestern Community College for its second summer research experience.  For more information, please contact Renè Salinas by email at salinas[at]  

Graduate Astronomy Coursework

To support capacity development for teaching astronomy, the project will offer a series of 6 graduate level astronomy courses providing eighteen hours of graduate level for qualified applicants.  For more information, please click here.  

Other partners on the project include Jackson County Public Schools, Macon County Schools, Swain County Schools, Cherokee Central Schools, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NASA Marshall Space Center, and Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute.  The initiative is supported by a $1.4 million grant from NASA.