February 9, 2021
National Science Foundation Awards Nearly $1 Million to WCU to Increase Academically-Talented & Underrepresented STEM Scholars
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded nearly $1 million to West Chester University’s Scholarships in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Program, also known as WCU S-STEM, which will provide greater access to high-achieving STEM students in the region who have financial need and come from groups typically underrepresented in such fields. Engaged in “Nanoscience in Health and Technology,” 18 talented STEM majors will come together as student scholars throughout their four years at WCU through a multidisciplinary range of academic, professional, and personal activities designed to cultivate and hone their abilities in a variety of STEM areas. Selected students will each receive scholarships of $9,000 per academic year for four years to cover the average cost of room and board, tuition, fees, books, and travel. The prestigious NSF grant, which totals $999,644, was awarded to the University’s Departments of Biology; Earth & Space Sciences; Chemistry; Mathematics; and Physics & Engineering.
“An emerging body of research suggests that retention of academically-talented, low-income students in STEM majors is a complicated challenge that requires a multifaceted, integrated reinvention of the college experience for these students,” the grant reads. In keeping with this line of research, WCU S-STEM scholars will participate in a pre-college STEMersion Camp that will include an applications-based math course, a multidisciplinary STEM lecture series, and a faculty/student Nanoscience in the News Journal Club; S-STEM orientation and learning activities; a STEM-themed First Year Experience; opportunities for Nanoscience Research summer experiences and industry internships; as well as career planning and NSF graduate fellowship grant-writing workshops.
The 18 WCU S-STEM scholars, who will be grouped in two cohorts of nine students, will work together as an “Accountability Team,” or a learning community where each participant depends on each other for engagement and development. Based on the principles of growth mindset, desirable difficulties/productive struggles, and metacognition, the two groups of WCU S-STEM scholars will be guided by a STEM faculty member who will meet with the teams on a regular basis to discuss learning strategies and to help the students establish a culture of support and success.
“At a time when STEM majors are needed now more than ever to increase our nation’s competitiveness in technology and innovation, paths must be cleared to provide access to talented students who have expressed intent to prepare themselves for high-performance careers in STEM fields,” said Dean of West Chester University’s College of the Sciences and Mathematics Radha Pyati.
“I am incredibly proud of my colleagues for their work and the investment of time that went into developing a much-needed project that will cultivate generations of STEM students at WCU, while advancing the future of STEM education in the U.S. at such a critical time,” she added.
In addition to scholarships, the nearly $1 million grant will provide other assistance to the academically-talented STEM majors throughout their four years at the University. A total of $706,800 will go directly to the participating scholars, while non-scholarship STEM majors will also be able to take advantage of the project’s ancillary activities.
The following are the members of the multidisciplinary team of WCU investigators who secured the prestigious grant: Assistant Professor of Physics & Engineering Brandon Mitchell (Principal Investigator), and Associate Dean of the College of the Sciences and Mathematics Vishal Shah, Associate Professor of Physics & Engineering Anil Kandalam, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Emily Miller, and Director of the Academic Success Program John Craig (all Co-Principal Investigators).