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National Science Foundation Grant Aims to Help Underserved College Students Graduate with STEM Degrees

Ferris State UniversityFerris State University has received a $1.2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to establish Project S3OAR, a 4-year program that seeks to recruit, retain and graduate low-income, academically talented students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

Project S3OAR, short for Sustainable, Scalable Scholarships, Opportunities, Achievements and Results (pronounced SOAR-three), is a partnership with Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and builds upon the lessons NKU learned from previous successful STEM grants awarded by the NSF.  The total amount awarded to both universities for this collaborative project is $2.3 million.

Starting in fall 2019, both universities will enroll 36 students each year for four years. With the help of the grant, 288 scholars will receive up to $10,000 in scholarship funding toward their degree.

S3OAR Scholars will participate in an orientation, a freshman seminar, a learning community, entrepreneurship education and a variety of co-curricular and enrichment opportunities, in addition to being assigned a mentor.

All S3OAR Scholars will also have access to an extensive array of support services available to all STEM students at their university.

Hengli Jiao, Ph.D., Mathematics professor at Ferris, is the principal investigator. Kristi Haik, Ph.D., dean of Ferris’ College of Arts, Sciences and Education, and Brent Williams, a Ferris State Welding Engineering Technology associate professor, serve as co-principal investigators. Haik formerly worked at NKU and was instrumental in developing the original program.

“Ferris State University is thrilled to be awarded this NSF grant alongside our counterparts at Northern Kentucky,” said Haik. “There is a national need for skilled, technically-trained employees, so we are eager to help this underserved population of students find success in these fields.”

Both Michigan and Kentucky are below the national average of persons ages 25 and over with at least a baccalaureate degree (27.4 percent for Michigan and 22.7 percent for Kentucky; 30.3 percent nationally). Conversely, the regions served by the universities rank in the top 20 for regions with the most professional opportunities for STEM graduates.

This news should be well received by West Michigan employers who are looking for STEM graduates. Both universities have already engaged with employers to provide job shadow experiences for the S3OAR Scholars.

“There are more than 100 employers who regularly work with Ferris and Northern Kentucky students in co-op, internship and shadowing situations,” said Jiao. “Many employers have already given verbal commitment to provide job shadowing opportunities, but we are always looking for more, so of all the students can benefit from the experience.”

Interested employers can contact the Ferris State University College of Arts, Sciences and Education Dean’s Office for more information.

Project S3OAR Objectives

  1. Increase the STEM enrollment of low-income, academically-talented undergraduates, particularly those from underrepresented groups in STEM, by 10 percent.
  2. Achieve a 90 percent retention rate during the transition from first to second year.
  3. Increase the retention and graduation rates of S3OAR Scholars compared to similar populations in both the STEM disciplines and the university.
  4. Document the program’s sustainability and scalability.
  5. Determine the effectiveness of job shadowing STEM professionals on the first- to second-year retention rate of S3OAR Scholars.

PHOTO CAPTION: Pictured (left to right) are Hengli Jiao, Ph.D., Mathematics professor; Kristi Haik, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Education; and Brent Williams, a Welding Engineering Technology associate professor who serve as co-principal investigators.