National Science Foundation Awards SRJC $650,000 Grant

February 28, 2018 – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently funded a five-year program at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) that will provide 60 academically talented, low-income students with academic support and Scholarships in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) fields, in the amount of $650,000. The new scholarship program, STEM MILES (Mentoring Innovative Learning Experiences for Students) seeks to increase the number of low-income, academically talented students in STEM and to improve the education of future scientists and engineers.  Included in the STEM MILES grant is a study on the impact of identified factors or evidence-based curricular and co-curricular activities and their effect on the success, retention, transfer, academic and career pathways, and graduation in STEM of low-income students.

STEM MILES lead principal investigator, Dr. Jan Kmetko, summarized student participant selection criteria: “The ideal STEM Miles student will be one who is academically talented, and with a financial need for support and majoring in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, or Engineering. This extra support, paired with faculty mentoring and other activities, will help keep academically talented students focused, on track to a successful completion, and eventual transfer to a four-year institution or AA degree completion.” Each admitted student will receive a scholarship of up to $6,600 and will participate in the program for up to three years. Guided by close faculty mentoring, the students will participate in an array of activities that will encourage them 1) to acquire project, research, internship, and career skills, 2) to seek membership in professional STEM community and clubs, 3) to practice leadership skills, 4) to gain understanding of how science is done via acquisition of critical thinking skills, and 5) to promote advancement of STEM knowledge.

Over the five-year period of the grant, SRJC’s Office of Institutional Research will collect and analyze statistics on STEM student outcomes disaggregated by income, helping to establish the effectiveness of the program’s interventions designed to close the performance gaps between academically talented low and non-low-income student groups.  “In designing the STEM MILES program, we hope to provide community college students with the high-touch, focused faculty advising model typically found at smaller private four-year institutions of higher education. We hope to demonstrate that the same results are possible in a community college setting,” explained Dr. Kmetko.

The results found at SRJC will be of interest to the increasing number of community colleges that are redesigning their academic programs to provide coherent paths leading to an improved student graduation and transfer in STEM. Through the successful implementation of the STEM MILES program, MILES scholars will benefit from faculty mentoring, improved course completion, and higher year-to-year retention in STEM courses. The STEM MILES scholars program will also provide students with opportunities to actively engage in scientific research at the community college setting, where students rarely get such opportunities.

This grant is being led by principal investigator Dr. Jan Kmetko, from the Chemistry & Physics Department, and co-principal investigator Abigail Zoger, from the Biological Sciences Department.  Funding for Scholarships in STEM is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Award No. 17 17-527.