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Denison receives $650,000 NSF grant to aid low-income STEM students

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July 28, 2021

The National Science Foundation has awarded Denison University $650,000 to assist talented low-income domestic students interested in pursuing majors and careers in STEM fields. The S-STEM (Scholarships for STEM)awards scholarships to qualifying students in STEM fields. In addition, the grant provides funds to adapt and implement curricular and co-curricular activities that support recruitment, retention, student success, and career pathways in STEM. The first scholarships will be awarded to students entering Denison in the Fall of 2022.

Denison President Adam Weinberg notes, “Data indicates that long-standing barriers can prevent underrepresented students from graduating with degrees and achieving success in STEM fields. Denison is creating new models to change that. We are committing resources to evidence-based programs, empowering even more robust faculty mentorship, and providing financial resources for items such as travel for research. STEM fields provide a wealth of exciting career opportunities that we want to make possible for our graduates. Denison’s pragmatic approach to the liberal arts gives our students the knowledge, skills, experiences, and networks to launch into lives of meaning and success.”

Professor of Biology and grant co-author Jessica Rettig says, “Denison has clear strengths in summer research, faculty mentorship, and high-impact practices known to enhance student success in STEM fields. This grant will enable Denison to implement a tested early-intervention strategy that supports students in effective mentoring pathways. We are thrilled and grateful to the National Science Foundation for this opportunity.”

Key components of the NSF S-STEM grant

  • Supports a cohort of eight students annually for four years
  • Each student is awarded a $5,000 scholarship toward tuition.
  • Students participate in a five-week summer research experience at Denison after their first year. Students receive a stipend and housing allowance and present a research poster at the Summer Scholars Symposium.
  • Students participate in the RAISE initiative, including the Peer Learning Strategist program.

Robust funding and support for underserved students in sciences

The NSF grant is a powerful new form of support for underserved students in STEM fields at Denison. The university’s commitment to helping these students achieve excellence is already in evidence through programs such as the Readiness and Inclusion in Science Education (RAISE) program, funded by a recent Arthur Vining Davis Foundations grant.

“The RAISE program is directed toward increasing the success of underrepresented students in the sciences. One issue we’re addressing is helping students bridge the gap between high school science classes and more rigorous college courses,” says Associate Professor of Biology Ayana Hinton. “Through a peer mentoring program, we teach students techniques to study more efficiently and learn more effectively.”

Biology major Fernanda Aiala ’23 has experienced the benefits of peer mentorship, and is now helping others as a mentor herself. “In high school as long as I paid attention in class and read over my notes I did fine, but when I did the same thing at Denison, I realized that wasn’t working.

“Dr. Hinton introduced me to the peer learning strategists program. I got tips on how to study and take notes, and how to be active in my study habits. I also was given a mentor who had taken the class before. It helped me realize that I was smart enough to do the work. My next exam grade went up more than 10 points and I apply these techniques to all my classes now.”

Four mentoring pathways for STEM students

The principal goal of the NSF grant is to give low-income, first-generation, and other underrepresented STEM students a sense of belonging that results in retention and success in the sciences. The proven early intervention strategy supports students in four mentoring pathways:

  • Academic Mentoring – Students participate in a cohort Advising Circle, followed by individual academic mentoring by science faculty.
  • Peer-to-Peer Mentoring – Students participate in the Peer Learning Strategists (PLS) program, initially as Peer Learners and in later years some may transition to training and working as Peer Learning Strategists.
  • Career Mentoring – Students participate in career mentoring and exploration through the Austin E. Knowlton Center for Career Exploration. Career mentoring activities develop across the student’s four years at Denison.
  • Research Mentoring – Beginning with the Early Experience Research Program (EER), research mentoring continues in later years when students are encouraged and aided in applying for a research position through the Anderson Science Program or REU/SURE programs off-campus.

Careers in STEM fields for science graduates

Denison offers students the knowledge and experiences they need for exciting careers in STEM fields. The college’s Anderson Science Program and the Lisska Center for Scholarly Engagement offer well-paid faculty-mentored summer research opportunities for 120+ students each year. Often, science research projects extend into the academic year, providing more opportunities for students to learn from professors who are highly respected in their fields. Professors and students often publish research together, and present their research at national science conferences.

Denison’s award-winning Knowlton Career Center works with students throughout their time at college to help them launch into their chosen careers, graduate programs, and nonprofit work. Each year, the Career Center offers $600,000+ in stipends for internship and research opportunities. Career coaches advise broadly but also offer specialty information in fields such as healthcare and science.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” NSF is vital because it supports basic research and people to create knowledge that transforms the future.