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Grant will support minorities in STEM

The National Science Foundation granted Temple $1 million.

The National Science Foundation funded a $1 million Emerging STEM Scholars grant for Temple. The program will support academically advanced and economically disadvantaged students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The grant will support between 48 and 60 students at Temple and investigators will follow them from their freshman year to graduation to determine how peer, graduate student and faculty mentoring affects students’ abilities to retain information and graduate on time.

Eric Borguet is the principal investigator and head of The Borguet Group, a research program in Temple’s chemistry department that studies molecular energy. Judith Stull, Peter Jones and Shoreh Amini are co-investigators.

“There are a couple of goals in mind,” said Stull, an associate professor of higher education. “[The grant] is primarily funding student support for students who are majoring in biology, chemistry or biochemistry, that are showing progress, but because of metrics, need some support.”

The project will include Temple’s first science-based learning community for students and faculty. The learning community will place a special focus on teaching and learning about computational science and its applications.

“The underlying theory of learning communities is, especially in a large university, the ability of instructors to get students actively engaged in learning is difficult in the classroom,” said Jones, the senior vice provost for Undergraduate Studies. “The idea behind learning communities is that you get students engaged in one, two or three classes. Then there’s more group work, more interactive work. It’s felt that sort of style will attract more students to early STEM classes.”

Students participating in the program will be given the opportunity to participate in research laboratories, both in Temple and in their respective industries, Jones added.

“The work they’re doing in the labs won’t necessarily be for credit but research shows that students who, early on in their career, are involved in academic mentorships with the faculty significantly improves retention within STEM disciplines,” Stull said. “They won’t be given active roles. At the beginning it’s more of an induction, but they’ll be encouraged to begin as observers and then, by the time they’re seniors, to have their own opportunities.”

“We have an advising board of faculty and business people in science-related [industries],” he added. “One thing the NSF is particularly interested in is that students will be invited into faculty years during freshman year.”

The grant will be split between the College of Science and Technology and the College of Education, Stull said.

Students who want to enter the program will need to meet several criteria.

“There is an elaborate statement about recruitment in the proposal that has multiple steps in it,” Stull said. “They really have to have financial need and yes, [The NSF] wants to increase what they call the ‘underrepresented minority.’ There’s a metric that’s going to be used to identify students and they will be contacted by admissions and invited into the program. We’d like to fund every student who applies, but we have to figure out how to target our money to make the best use of it for the students.”

The amount of students accepted will be based on the need for financial aid, Stull added.

The bulk of the money will go to the students, who before would often have to work to pay bills, he said.

“One of the nice things about this grant is that it is a collaboration between faculty and administration,” Jones said. “Whatever success and developments happen during the grant, that’s a 5-year period, can be sustained beyond the grant. [The NSF] wants us to demonstrate that there is an institutional interest in this grant. There’s an absolute expectation from [the] NSF that Temple will continue the grant beyond their funding.”

“This is a competition among a lot of institutions,” Stull said. “Getting these grants is not an easy task. They normally fund about 5 percent of applicants, so this is kind of a coup for Temple.”

Amanda Lien can be reached at amanda.lien@temple.edu or on Twitter @amandajlien.

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