RU CSAT to initiate unique retention and scholarship program

The National Science Foundation (NSF) last week awarded a grant of $602,101 to the College of Science and Technology (CSAT) for a scholarship, retention and career development program called "RU-NextGen: Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders in Science, Technology and Mathematics."

The program will support academically qualified but financially disadvantaged students from high schools and community colleges and their pursuit of a critically-needed STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) major and career. The grant, which includes six to eight scholarships per year, will also include a leadership development program to encourage their retention and career development.

The successful grant means RU-NextGen will begin in Fall 2014. RU-NextGen was developed by a seven-person RU team. The principal project investigator (PI) is Premchand Uppuluri, associate professor of information technology. Co-PI's are Orion Rogers, CSAT Dean and professor of biology; Ian Barland, associate professor of information technology; and Jean Mistele, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics. Assisting with the grant development and in the implementation of the program are Laura Jacobsen, interim associate dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies; Bethany Bodo, director of academic assessment; and Sandra Baker, associate director of academic assessment.

"The RU-NextGen grant will enable the CSAT to recruit, advise and mentor students as majors who demonstrate the ability to pursue a STEM degree and the dedication to enhance their leadership skills," said Rogers. "We anticipate awarding scholarships averaging $6,000 each to students with demonstrated unmet financial need and academic success in high school or community college. These scholarships further the CSAT missions of providing extraordinary learning opportunities to motivated students and of educating future problem solvers and researchers who are committed and prepared to assume leadership roles in professional STEM disciplines."

The RU-NextGen is a successor to a recently completed NSF-grant program that RU CSAT implemented in 2009, called "Bridges and Pipelines: Success and Leadership in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)" program. Central to the new degree completion program is the formation of an innovative umbrella group, called ELITES (Emerging Leaders in Science, Technology and Mathematics). ELITES is designed to help participating students succeed academically, sharpen their career and leadership development skills and encourage professional growth opportunities like research assistantships and internships on the way to STEM career success.

"We want to directly alleviate student financial burden and help ensure that students' passion for a career in STEM majors stays strong," said Uppuluri. "Through this program, we can be proactive in helping develop their skills and careers."

The ELITES program will support student progress by monitoring its cohort's individual action plans. Among the initiatives contained in the ELITES program are summer research projects, leadership or honors contracts to encourage active classroom engagement, peer mentoring and cohort-building social and academic exercises.

The new program complements other successful CSAT STEM development initiatives like the pre-college Summer Bridge Program for high-school age women who aspire to careers in science, its schedule of science competitions for regional students and its STEM Club. The RU-NextGen and ELITES programs supports the Commonwealth of Virginia's drive to increase the statewide pool of STEM professionals outlined in the January 2011 "Preparing for the Top Jobs of the 21stCentury: The Virginia Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2011."

Apr 16, 2014