NSF grant funds IU Bloomington effort to recruit, support undergrad science students

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Indiana University Bloomington has been awarded over $614,000 by the National Science Foundation to recruit, support, and retain undergraduate students majoring in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics over the next five years. The vast majority of that money -- just over $516,000 -- will go directly to student scholarships.

"These core science departments are partnering to implement a spectrum of programs to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of students earning degrees in the life, physical and mathematical sciences," IU Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel said. "This program advances a number of the initiatives within our strategic planning process, including undergraduate STEM education, student diversity and innovative residential programs. It will emphasize a strong peer support system for students through a community of scholars who will be emphasizing collaboration and teamwork."

Designated as the S-STEM Program -- Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- by NSF, the ultimate goal is to place undergraduates on a path to pursue further education and careers in the fields of astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics. Also designed to engage faculty, S-STEM goals are tied to goals within those five departments in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences.

By providing a multidisciplinary experience for students that includes connecting with faculty and students in other STEM disciplines and with professionals outside academia -- including partnerships with high-tech employers in the Bloomington area who will provide internships -- the program looks to not only expand the pool of students starting in STEM majors but ultimately to expand the nation's science-based workforce.

"This program focuses on the development of a community of STEM scholars who will engage students in preparation for a successful career in these fields," College of Arts and Sciences Dean Larry Singell said. "The College welcomes this opportunity to broaden the field of opportunity in the sciences for a diverse group of students."

The initiative is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences' Pre-College and Undergraduate Programs office, where Shelley Singell will serve as program coordinator. S-STEM program steering committee members are Jeremy Bennett, representing the College's Science, Technology and Research Scholars program and its Integrated Freshman Learning Experience program; physics professor Michael Berger; mathematics professor Marlies Gerber; Julianne Martin, representing the Women in Science, Technology, Informatics and Math Residential Community and the Center for Excellence for Women in Technology; astronomy professor Caty Pilachowski; chemistry clinical professor and director of undergraduate studies Kate Reck; Jack Schmit of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs; and biology professor Mimi Zolan. Pilachowski is the principal investigator on the NSF grant.

The initial round of scholarships will fund students enrolled for the Spring 2014 semester who have been identified through a nomination and application process; the steering committee will select awardees in December. The process for awards in subsequent years is still being developed, but recruitment will be statewide and will involve direct outreach to high schools and to the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers, in addition to use of existing units and outreach programs at the university.

Community-building activities planned as part of the program include:

  • Departmental seminars and social events.
  • Speaker series focusing on careers and opportunities.
  • Interdisciplinary activities associated with participating disciplines.
  • Coordination with the  Women in STIM Living Learning Center.
  • Career Services workshops and career fairs.
  • Research experiences.
  • Graduate student and faculty mentors.
  • Internship opportunities.

In addition, S-STEM steering committee members said a project was being developed to work with the College of Arts and Sciences'  Department of English to develop a "Writing for Scientists" section of that department's W350 Intensive Writing course, and with IU's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning to examine bottleneck courses to improve success rates for at-risk students.