More than 120 low-income Nebraska students will benefit from a new five-year, $3.56 million grant from the National Science Foundation while they pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Southeast Community College, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Western Nebraska Community College are working together to build out the state’s STEM workforce through a new grant, STEM Career Opportunities in Nebraska: Networks, Experiential-learning and Computational Thinking.
“The STEM Connect project will give underrepresented students a direct pathway to a four-year degree and a career in a STEM discipline,” said SCC President Dr. Paul Illich. “I believe institutions of higher education are at their best when we are all working together to create the highest quality experience for our students.”
Funding from NSF’s S-STEM initiative will provide scholarships and academic support for low-income students, specifically targeting underrepresented minorities, women and rural and first-generation students. Students who begin at SCC or WNCC in the Academic Transfer program will take courses to build their strengths in math and computer science, while the students who begin at UNL will major in math, computer science, computer engineering or software engineering.
“We will be working with academically gifted, low-income students and help them to successfully enter the workforce or pursue graduate education,” said Jim Lewis, Aaron Douglas Professor of mathematics and STEM CONNECT’s principal investigator.
Financial need and scholarship amounts will be determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, and scholarships can be as much as $8,000 per year. They are renewable for four years at UNL, or two years at SCC or WNCC, and then funds will follow students for two more years if they transfer to Nebraska.
Lewis and the team will identify a first cohort of six to eight students who will receive funding beginning with the spring 2020 semester, and these students will become the program’s first peer mentors. An additional 20 students will be chosen to begin studies at UNL in fall 2020.Between SCC and WNCC, an additional 32 students will receive a scholarship in either spring or fall 2020.
The grant also funds a research study, led by Smith and Rebecca Carr, associate director of institutional research at SCC. The study examines which factors affect retention, academic success and graduation in STEM fields among low-income students, and how those factors differ among students who transfer from a two-year to a four-year institution.
“The STEM Connect project also will serve as a catalyst to strengthen and expand our transfer processes to maximize student recruitment, retention and success for all students,” Illich added.