The National Science Foundation recently awarded a five-year, $1 million grant to Maryville College to fund the Scots Science Scholars (S3) program.
Launched in fall 2013, the program centers on three components designed to retain and graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math fields: a summer bridge program to prepare students for college-level STEM work; a specialized first-year curriculum to build community and provide academic support; and a research/leadership experience.
“We were experiencing a trend at Maryville College that was also going on nationally: Students were enrolling in college, intending to major in the sciences and math, but only a fraction of those students were completing them, often changing majors in their first or second year. At the same time, the need for STEM professionals was increasing and continues to do so,” explained Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics, codirector of the program with Angelia Gibson, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and associate professor of chemistry.
In Tennessee alone, STEM-related occupations will account for 11% of all new jobs over the next three to five years. “By addressing student needs and supporting them to succeed in their selected majors, they can be the at the forefront of technological and scientific advances that will benefit our community and our nation,” Siopsis said.
Over the past six years, 97 students have participated in the program.
“The program increased retention among STEM majors at Maryville College and helped erase differences in retention between students of differing economic backgrounds,” Gibson said. The number of STEM majors has increased by 52% because of a variety of efforts across campus, she said.
In addition to support from various people, Gibson said she believes the success of the program comes from building STEM identity and capital early on. The S3 participants come in before their first-year classes begin and form a tight-knit cohort.
“They learn what it means to be a STEM major — from the excitement of working with interesting and smart people on cool projects to the realities of studying and grappling with challenging homework for hours at a time,” Gibson continued.
In addition to enabling Maryville College to continue to offer the S3 program, the NSF grant will broaden the program’s impact to create a culture of STEM at MC; provide scholarships for high-achieving students with financial need; and provide additional academic and professional mentoring and advising that should help students persist to graduation.
The grant also will allow for the creation of the LASER (Leveraging Academic Support, Experiences and Research) Center.
According to the co-directors, the LASER Center will coordinate with and supplement existing programming at Maryville to provide STEM-specific academic support and structured tutoring through the STEM Success Center. The LASER Center also will work with faculty and the Career Center to help students plug in early to STEM research, service projects and internship opportunities.
Arconic and General Electric also have provided support for the S3 program.