$1.5M NSF grant to assist low-income students seeking degrees in STEM fields

Lion Shrine with STEM themed objects
Credit: Sharon Siegfried

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – A team of Penn State Harrisburg researchers has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide scholarships and mentoring support for 30 academically talented students with financial need to help them graduate with a degree and be successfully prepared for a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field.

“Low income, first-generation students experience several challenges when attending institutions of higher education, including higher levels of stress, lower levels of life satisfaction, decreased sense of belonging and lack of interest in STEM fields, which influences their persistence to continue in their programs,” said Principal Investigator Sedig Agili, professor of electrical engineering in the School of Science, Engineering and Technology. “Programs such as this play an important role in increasing access to college education for many communities, particularly those from under-represented populations. Our team is working hard to not only alleviate financial burden but, in greater scope, to create a support system for success of low-income students.”

A collaboration between the college’s School of Science, Engineering and Technology and School of Behavioral Sciences and Education, the six-year project aims to examine how interrelated program components can foster persistence among STEM students.

The project objectives include increasing the number of diverse, low-income, academically talented students who enroll in and graduate from Penn State Harrisburg STEM undergraduate programs, contributing to the workforce in STEM; implementing curricular and supportive activities that promote scholars’ persistence; identifying factors that contribute to scholars’ persistence to remain in STEM programs and successfully graduate; and disseminating knowledge gained about the role of specific components in promoting persistence.

“Support of this Penn State Harrisburg initiative by the National Science Foundation is critical to our ability to best serve our students as well as the broader community as we work to promote greater access to higher education, especially in the STEM disciplines, and to create a pipeline of well-prepared professionals for business and industry in our region,” said Penn State Harrisburg Chancellor John M. Mason. “In addition, our researchers will contribute to greater understanding of ways educators can help all students to reach their goals.”

Co-principal investigators on the project include Aldo Morales, professor of electrical engineering; Omid Ansary, senior associate dean for academic affairs and administration; Sairam Rudrabhatla, professor of biology; and Jane Wilburne, professor of mathematics education.