Strategic Initiatives

STEM Starter Academy (SSA)


The goal of SSA is to recruit, ready, retain and graduate a diverse body of community college students earning STEM certificates and degrees and transferring to 4-year STEM programs or entering the workforce. The UMass Donahue Institute (UMDI) serves as the external evaluator to determine SSA impacts and student outcomes.


David Cedrone
Associate Commissioner
Workforce & Economic Development & STEM

Allison Little
Assistant Commissioner
P-16 Alignment & Outreach
(617) 994-6935


2013 – Present






Public Community Colleges
University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute


The STEM Starter Academy (SSA) program is an initiative of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE) that began in 2013 through the leadership of Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and support from the Massachusetts Legislature. In partnership with the Commonwealth’s community college system, the purpose of STEM Starter Academy is to recruit, ready, retain and graduate a diverse body of students earning STEM certificates and degrees who go on to transfer to a 4-year STEM programs and/or enter the workforce. The University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute (UMDI), under contract to the DHE, is engaged as an independent evaluator of the SSA initiative to provide formative and summative assessments of program practices and student outcomes.

The Importance of STEM in Massachusetts 

Jobs that require a strong foundation in STEM education are increasing in number, expanding into new fields and transforming traditional careers. Massachusetts needs a robust, diverse and growing STEM workforce to sustain our economy and advance the Commonwealth’s reputation for innovation, globally. Community colleges are a critical source for Massachusetts STEM ready talent pipeline.

The SSA program engages students from communities and groups that are underrepresented in the current STEM workforce - people of color, women, adult learners and other students who may not previously have considered STEM fields to be of interest or accessible to them. SSA is changing the landscape of pathways to STEM careers.

Many community college students are uncertain of their skills, potential and career interests and need to attain positive educational outcomes that reinforce a commitment to higher education. Too often, students are unaware of available support resources or how to access these resources to promote their success. SSA provides a suite of intentional support services to promote equitable success outcomes for underrepresented student groups.

Massachusetts needs STEM education programming that attains relevant scale and serves students across the Commonwealth, sustainably. SSA has developed a collaborative learning community of program administrators, faculty, student leaders and employer partners who are on-course to define, implement and share best-practices - affecting segment-wide, system-level and labor-market aligned outcomes.

Evaluation and Outcomes

The goal of SSA is to expand the pipeline of students who are aware of, interested in and prepared to pursue rigorous certificate and degree programs at Massachusetts community colleges, leading to careers in STEM fields. Three key strategies are employed to achieve this goal, (1) engage a more diverse population of students from groups underrepresented in the STEM workforce and from underserved communities across the commonwealth, (2) promote positive, equitable outcomes through the design and deployment of intentional supports, (3) replicate and sustain the impact of SSA through best-practices, at scale, statewide.

PDF Year 6 Annual Evaluation Report (2020)

PDF Year 6 Report Appendices (2020)

PDF Equity and Diversity Report (2020)

PDF Impact and Value Report (2020)

The DHE has partnered with the UMass Donahue Institute to evaluate impacts and outcomes associated with the STEM Starter Academy grant. The Donahue Institute provides formative and summative feedback on program development and outcomes, as well as targeted technical assistance. The Donahue Institute collects feedback from participants and administrators through surveys, interviews, select site visits, and concise structured reports. The evaluation supports DHE’s efforts to develop evidence-based best practices, to promote the use of best practices at participating institutions, and to disseminate information about these practices to the broader STEM community.

Past reports are available by request to Allison Little (

Programs & Contacts

Use the contact information and website links below for questions about STEM Starter Academy, or to find a program near you.

Department of Higher Education David Cedrone

Allison Little
UMass Donahue Institute Jeremiah Johnson
Berkshire Community College Colin Wilson
Program Website
Bunker Hill Community College Laura Rubin
Program Website
Bristol Community College Kristin Almedia
Program Website
Cape Cod Community College Bridget Burger
Program Website
Greenfield Community College Deidre Murphy
Program Website
Holyoke Community College Sharon Edwards
Program Website
Massasoit Community College Michael Bankson
MassBay Community College Valerie Kapilow
Program Website
Middlesex Community College Josh Felch
Program Website
Mount Wachusett Community College Heather Layton
Program Website
Northern Essex Community College Carolyn Knoepfler
North Shore Community College Steven Hubbard
Program Website
Quinsigamond Community College Darcy Carlson 
Program Website
Roxbury Community College Hillel Sims
Springfield Technical Community College Lara Sharp
Program Website