Newswise — Ursinus College plans to boost the success of low-income, high-achieving students in the sciences. A National Science Foundation grant will address a national need for trained individuals to enter a growing number of STEM careers.

Ursinus will emphasize the recruitment and retention of academically talented students demonstrating financial need, through both scholarships and programming to assist them in completing majors and pursuing graduate programs and careers in biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience.

“Ursinus College has a strong history in undergraduate science education,” said Ursinus Interim President Lucien “Terry” Winegar. “We also have a tradition of supporting underserved students. This grant will allow us to develop exciting programming that will build on and extend both strengths.”

Professor of Biology and Associate Dean Rebecca Kohn leads the five-year S-STEM grant of $593,357 titled, “Supporting Inclusive Excellence in Biology, Biochemistry, and Neuroscience.” The co-principle investigators for the grant are Kathryn Goddard, Associate Professor of Biology, Carlita Favero, Assistant Professor of Biology, and Jennifer Round, Assistant Professor of Biology. S-STEM stands for Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Charlene Wysocki is Director of Research and Sponsored Programs.

“We’ve talked about some exciting ways to increase the numbers and the success of STEM students, and we also want to increase the number of STEM graduates who are from underserved groups,” said Kohn. “This grant will help these students succeed.”

Ursinus has long encouraged the study of science among its students from all backgrounds. One of Dr. Kohn’s early grants was a National Science Foundation CAREER grant with the goal of encouraging interest by female and minority students in biology research. Other grants have included National Science Foundation RUI grant stipends for minority students to pursue summer research in her laboratory. The Center for Science and the Common Good’s FUTURE (Fellowships in the Ursinus Transition to the Undergraduate Research Experience) Summer Research Program encourages underserved students in STEM fields to begin research even before their first semester.

The new grant will help develop the Supporting Inclusive Excellence (SIE) project to support 30 academically talented students over the five-year grant period who demonstrate financial need as they complete majors in biology, biochemistry, or neuroscience, and as they look toward entering the workforce or STEM graduate school programs. Academic support systems will help them remain in the pipeline toward future STEM careers. Other students on campus will also benefit from some of these supports.

“The strength of the project,” said Kohn, “lies in its coordinated approach to support recruitment and retention of STEM students through academic advising, curricular and co-curricular activities, mentoring, and research opportunities.” It includes a bridge program to facilitate the transition between the first and second semesters of introductory biology, inclusive pedagogy in introductory biology and chemistry courses, a series of workshops offered by the Career and Professional Development office towards achieving STEM careers, and research opportunities to strengthen students' connection to the STEM community.

The SIE project will be assessed and findings will be shared so that other institutions can incorporate successful approaches for supporting high-achieving and low-income students.