UNCP awarded $1M STEM grant

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The number of students enrolling in upper division STEM-related programs at UNC Pembroke has increased nearly three times faster than the increase in total upper division enrollment in the last five years.

Those numbers are expected to continue climbing thanks in part to a $999,978 S-STEM (Scholarships in STEM) grant from the National Science Foundation.

The funding will provide scholarships to support 30 students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in biology or chemistry over five years, beginning spring 2020. There will be three cohorts of 10 students.

The Unlocking STEM Pathways program is designed to identify, retain and graduate talented students in the biology and chemistry fields who are experiencing financial need.

In broad terms, the project will contribute to the university’s efforts to increase the number of underrepresented students graduating with STEM degrees, creating a more diverse workforce.

“The support from the National Science Foundation is a real game changer for UNCP and, more importantly, our students,” said Provost David Ward. “Our students do not lack the ability or the drive required to be successful in the STEM fields. For some, however, financial hardship gets in the way of their success.”

The nearly $1 million grant is the second round of funding from NSF. UNCP received $618,000 in 2014 to administer the COMPASS scholarship program. The latest project will focus on preparing students for graduate school or the STEM workforce.

Dr. Maria Santisteban, a biology professor, will administer the program along with grant co-authors Drs. Rebecca Bullard-Dillard and Rita Hagevik, professors of chemistry and biology, respectively.

According to Santisteban, the program will generate new insight into the impact of college access programs on enrollment in STEM-related departments. The overall goal is to increase STEM degree completion of low-income, high-achieving undergraduates with a financial need. The program provides annual scholarships averaging $6,000 per student.

“I am overjoyed because of what this large National Science Foundation award can do for our students. We saw the first community of COMPASS scholars thrive, become a family, and successfully transition to STEM occupations,” Santisteban said.

“Now, we have this opportunity to keep growing it and impact many more students. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to wisely administer this grant and run a successful program that will benefit not just the direct recipients of the scholarship but other science students, as many interventions in our program will be open to biology and chemistry students.”

Financial hardship is a major barrier that keeps some students from successful degree completion in STEM fields. More than 55 percent of STEM students in fall 2018 were Pell grant recipients and many continue to juggle both school and jobs. 

To alleviate the financial pressure, the grant will provide stipends to recipients as well as cover costs for research, conference fees, GRE prep courses and other support activities.

Ward adds, “This grant now means students will no longer lack the financial resources to be successful.”

Together with NC Promise, the Unlocking STEM Pathways program will increase access to and affordability of a high-quality education ultimately encouraging more students to seek successful career paths in rapidly growing STEM fields.