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$500k grant aims to increase STEM diversity and retention

Published on November 28, 2023

$500k grant aims to increase STEM diversity and retention

STEM graphicStudents from historically underrepresented backgrounds applying to Eastern Connecticut State University in 2024 who plan to major in the sciences or mathematics will be recruited for a new STEM mentoring program funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program at Eastern is designed to recruit and retain underrepresented students in science, technology and mathematics. It will start this summer with 15 students selected from the incoming first-year class. They will receive stipends to spend two weeks in summer residence at Eastern, receiving individualized mathematics instruction and building a foundation for their fall entry as majors in biology, biochemistry, computer science, mathematics or environmental earth science.

In their first year at Eastern they will be part of a learning community in STEM in which they will take at least two classes and a first-year seminar together. Building a STEM learning community will “help them stay in the profession and learn what it’s about,” said Kim Ward, professor of mathematics and coordinator of LSAMP at Eastern.

The NSF grant for LSAMP totals $3.2 million to all four Connecticut state universities, with Southern Connecticut State University serving as the lead institution. Eastern’s part of the grant is $525,000 over five years. The program at Eastern was developed by Ward; Dean Emily Todd; Patricia Szczys, director of the Institute for Sustainability; and Jennifer Brown, former associate provost. Todd also serves on the governing board for the grant.

Kim Ward
Kim Ward, professor of mathematics and coordinator of LSAMP at Eastern

Fifteen more students will be added to Eastern’s program in 2025. When the 2025 cohort participates in its summer preparation, the 2024 group will attend a second summer residence, this one in research, choosing a faculty mentor and a research project. As LSAMP scholars, they will present their research, possibly yearly. Each year of the five-year grant, 15 additional students will be recruited to the program.

Besides academics, LSAMP will emphasize study skills and a community mindset, said Todd.
A sense of belonging and self-identity in STEM will be reinforced by the program, said Ward. Self-identity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been identified as crucial to keeping people in the fields. As part of LSAMP, students will have peer mentors as well as research mentors.

The four CSCU campuses will share seminars and events for LSAMP scholars, Ward said. Faculty will also share best teaching practices.

“The grant will develop further collaboration with faculty in the system,” said Todd.

Talks by alumni who work in STEM industries and internships also will be part of the program. “All of the institutions are excited about strengthening our bonds with alumni,” said Todd.

Underrepresented applicants to the incoming class who choose one of the five designated majors will be considered for LSAMP. “We’ll take economic status into consideration, but the grant is nonrestrictive,” said Ward.

The broader impact of the program is to “create, evaluate and sustain best practices and graduate a higher percentage of underrepresented students in STEM, and to prepare for jobs in the state of Connecticut,” she said.

Written by Lucinda Weiss