Coker College to Serve as the Lead Institution Managing the Largest National Science Foundation S-STEM Collaborative Grant ($4.4M) Awarded to Date in South Carolina
Coker College will serve as the lead institution on a research project involving five additional colleges, using a five-year $4,446,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program (NSF S-STEM). This award is the largest NSF S-STEM collaborative grant of its kind in South Carolina to date.
The grant will fund the STEM Scholars in Biology (SSB) program for high-achieving students interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields and who are in need of financial assistance to attend college. The grant will provide scholarship aid averaging $6,000 per year for each of the recipient's four years in college; an anticipated 114 students from the consortium of six schools will be supported by the grant. The first group of students to be enrolled in the SSB program will be selected from first-year students entering college in the fall of 2018 with a commitment to studying biology; Coker will have 18 scholars participate in the cohort.
The project hopes to generate new information about factors contributing to the persistence and success of biology students who need financial assistance. It will contribute new information to the literature specific to low-income students and will ultimately help increase graduation rates of STEM scholars, while increasing their participation in a STEM-related graduate program or field of employment.
Joe Flaherty, Ph.D., professor of biology and director of undergraduate research at Coker College, is the principal investigator for the project, with Tracy Parkinson, Ph.D., vice president for strategic partnerships at Coker, serving as co-principal investigator. The program is also supported by a number of key faculty personnel and offices across all of the participating institutions. “It’s not just about developing students,” says Flaherty. “The project also involves developing faculty to be able to mentor and best provide support for the scholars and implement best practices to increase the chances that our combined approaches will succeed.”
In addition to the four-year scholarships, SSB participants will receive an integrated first-year experience, including a STEM-based first-year seminar, new laptop computers, mentoring by external scientists, intrusive advising from faculty and support from peer mentors, research or project-based learning experiences and support to travel and participate in an annual SSB Institute held in Washington, DC. The impact of these activities on enrollment and retention, graduation, and post-graduate placement rates will be examined.
Flaherty says, “Just the idea that we’re going to be actually carrying out a scientific study to try to figure out the key factors that influence a student’s decision to not only succeed in college, but to persist in their chosen major and use that degree to become a professional in the biological sciences is very exciting and poses to enhance our understanding of these important contributors to student success.”
All six colleges participating in the program belong to the Yes We Must Coalition, which strives to increase low-income and underrepresented students’ college-degree attainment at small, independent, nonprofit colleges and universities: Coker College (Hartsville, SC), College of Saint Elizabeth (Morristown, NJ), Ferrum College (Ferrum, VA), Keuka College (Keuka Park, NY), Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, NY), and Thomas University (Thomasville, GA).
“The project is scalable so, once we carry out this study, what we learn can be applied to the other Yes We Must institutions...That’s really the goal of the program at NSF,” says Flaherty. “They’re very explicit of the overarching goal to increase the number of U.S. citizens earning STEM degrees and entering the workforce as scientists and professionals in STEM fields, serving a critical national need.”
“Every student who walks through our gates deserves an equitable opportunity to be successful, and this very generous grant helps us ensure that opportunity for each of them,” says Parkinson. “We will be able to better provide support structures for their academic success, and we will be able to reduce the financial stresses that need not be barriers for talented and capable students. Our biology program will benefit from their presence and, when they are graduates, our communities and regions will benefit as well.”