Research & Innovation

Mechanical Engineering Professor Frank Fisher and Cross-Disciplinary Co-PIs Receive $1.5M National Science Foundation Grant for Supporting Underserved STEM Students

The project seeks to increase the number of academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who earn degrees in STEM fields

photo of Frank Fisher

Professor Frank Fisher, in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, recently received a $1.5M grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his project “Fostering Adaptive Expertise to Increase Retention of Low-Income STEM Students.” Fisher will serve as Primary Investigator (PI) for the project, and will be joined by Co-PIs Alex De Rosa (Mechanical Engineering), Ashley Lytle (College of Arts and Letters), Susan Metz (Office of the President), and Jean Zu (Dean of the Schaefer School of Science and Engineering.) The project seeks to increase STEM degree completion of high-achieving undergraduates with demonstrated financial need at Stevens Institute of Technology.

The project has three specific aims, which are to adapt best practices to create a supportive and nurturing scholar environment, develop activities focused on fostering the characteristics of adaptive expertise within the scholars, and increase departmental and institutional support for students experiencing financial disparity. To facilitate these campus-wide efforts, they have created a team of faculty advisors from the engineering and science departments as well as key staff from several administrative units on campus. The NSF support will also provide the capacity to extend partial scholarships to some undergraduate students at Stevens with unmet financial aid.

“We will use the construct of adaptive expertise to develop materials to support undergraduate students in the classroom and in ultimately applying their knowledge in practice,” Fisher said.

Cultivating adaptive expertise

Fisher’s group will design a mentoring program made up of faculty, peers, and alumni that will specifically target the development of adaptive expertise, in turn increasing the sense of resiliency in ADAPT Scholars and resulting in a higher rate of undergraduate degree completion. The group will track and analyze changes in adaptiveness in the ADAPT scholars throughout their studies while indicating which programming elements are most effective in supporting this student growth.

The program will further knowledge of how STEM academic departments and universities can better support persistence through graduation of STEM students affected by financial inequities. Key elements of the program may be replicable by other universities to support other underserved and vulnerable STEM student groups. In addition, over its six-year duration the project will fund partial scholarships to 50 individual full-time students who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in STEM eligible disciplines spanning math, science, and engineering at Stevens.

“There is reason to believe that this work on adaptive expertise may also support other underserved and underrepresented student populations in STEM,” Fisher said. “If successful, the results could also be easily replicated by other universities looking to provide similar undergraduate student support.”

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