Ball State University’s College of Sciences and Humanities has
been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation that is expected to
play a major role in increasing retention and graduation rates among academically
talented low-income students in Chemistry and Biology.
The National Sciences Foundation Scholarships in Science,
Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (NSF-S-STEM) Grant awarded to the
college—totaling $750,000 over five years—will be used to provide scholarships
to 16 high-achieving undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need,
recruited in two cohorts of eight and supported for up to four years.
The grant project, titled “Pathways to STEM Degrees
through Integrated Academic Support, Career Enhancement, and Personal
Development (I-ASCEND),” will also enable the University to build programming
based on high-impact practices (HIPs) targeting students’ academic preparation
and career enhancement, such as: a first-year seminar; undergraduate research; faculty/peer
mentoring; living-learning communities; internships/co-op experiences; and interactive
industry seminars hosted by top Indiana employers. Workshops and activities to
promote mental health, self-awareness, and social integration will also be
incorporated in the programming to address Ball State students’ needs.
“At Ball State, in line with the imperatives outlined in
our strategic plan, we strive to provide a premier undergraduate experience
through high-impact practices,” said Dr. Maureen McCarthy, dean
of the College of Sciences and Humanities. “We are grateful to have the support
of the National Science Foundation to advance our institutional goals of transforming
the economic landscape of talented students who come from disadvantaged
backgrounds that otherwise might not have considered attending our University.”
Regional recruitment efforts for the scholarships will
target schools in the Indianapolis metropolitan area that enroll a highly
diverse, low-income student population. Local recruitment will focus on
students from Muncie Central High School, the Indiana Academy for Science,
Mathematics, and Humanities, and Burris Laboratory School.
Dr. Sundeep Rayat,
associate professor of Chemistry at Ball State and principal investigator for
the grant project, said low-income students face significant obstacles in
securing funding for their education, and are often burdened by large student
loans and/or extended work hours.
As a result, Dr. Rayat said, this student population
tends to have insufficient time for coursework, often resulting in poor
performance and even complete departure from their STEM education.
“The scholarships can improve persistence, retention, and
graduation rates in STEM—yet scholarships alone do not address high attrition
rates,” Dr. Rayat said. “The high-impact practices that we will be able to
deploy, thanks to the support of the National Science Foundation, have been
proven to increase persistence and degree completion in higher education. This
is because engagement in HIPs encourages critical thinking and promotes deep
and meaningful interactions with a diverse community of peers, faculty,
advisors, administrative staff, and student affairs professionals, which serve
as the foundation for a sense of belonging and result in higher academic gains.”
The students selected for the scholarship will work out
of Ball State’s brand new, state-of-the-art Foundational Sciences Building.
Opened in June 2021, this $87.5 million, five-story structure features 72
laboratories, many immersive learning classrooms and flexible teaching
spaces, an aquatics suite, advanced microscopy and imaging equipment, and
strategically designed collaborative spaces for students to share inquiry
beyond the classroom.
Joining Dr. Rayat as
co-principal investigators for the grant project are Dr. Gen Mager, assistant teaching professor
of Biology; Dr. Katharine Herbert, senior academic advisor; and
Jill Coleman, associate dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities.