Stevens Institute of Technology has received two significant new awards to foster increased diversity in STEM higher education and career development.
The new funding recognizes and will build upon existing STEM diversity initiatives at the university, including Stevens ACES (Accessing Careers in Engineering and Science), which received a 2020 Diversity and Inclusion Award from the New Jersey Business and Industry Association; the A. James Clark Scholars Program; and STEP (the Stevens Technical Enrichment Program).
"Increasing access and success of women and underrepresented and underserved students to STEM education and careers is a national imperative," said Stevens President Nariman Farvardin. "I am proud that Stevens has been a pioneer in creating model programs that provide robust support to these students from high school to the successful attainment of a Stevens degree.
"These significant awards from the National Science Foundation and the State of New Jersey will substantially augment current programs and provide enormous benefits to talented and deserving students."
New tech, mentorship, alumni engagement
In July, the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE) awarded Stevens approximately $850,000 for pre-college and research programs through the state's Opportunity Meets Innovation Challenge — which works to increase enrollment of underrepresented students in STEM programs at state-based universities in partnership with state high schools — to cultivate research, innovation and talent among Stevens undergraduate students.
The primary investigators for the project will be David Zeng, Stevens' vice provost for academic innovation and faculty affairs, and Tony Barrese, interim dean of the School of Systems and Enterprises.
"New Jersey has the opportunity to transform higher education by prioritizing students’ postsecondary education needs and ensuring its workforce will be ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow’s post-pandemic economy," wrote Secretary of Higher Education Brian Bridges. "We value your institution’s participation in this challenge, and we look forward to learning from the innovative best practices to be implemented."
"This is a great opportunity to strengthen our outreach programs and enhance the educational experience of undergraduate students at Stevens," noted Zeng.
The OSHE funding will enable Stevens to double the size of, and also diversify, existing entrepreneurship programs such as [email protected] and [email protected], as well as support the creation of a dedicated "Startup Garage" technology space. The new space will feature 20 work stations; wearable Microsoft Hololens and Oculus Quest devices; high-powered hardware, including Alienware Aurora desktop computers and Mavic Air drones; new 3D printers and laser cutters; and additional fabrication and technical tools.
In addition, the state award will enable recruitment from Stevens ACES' partner high schools, offering entry-level university coursework to approximately 60 selected high school students each summer at no cost to those students. Participating students will receive instruction in and advice about the creation of applications to college STEM programs.
The grant will also support 100 undergraduate students each year as they participate in research at Stevens, significantly increasing the number of undergraduate students engaged in research on the campus, added Zeng.
Building a bridge to students in need
In August, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Stevens $1.5 million in support of a broad, interdisciplinary initiative to develop programming toward the development of well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technicians through increased recruitment, retention and graduation of high-achieving students with demonstrated financial need.
The NSF-funded initiative, "Fostering Adaptive Expertise to Increase Retention and Graduation of Low-Income STEM Students," will be led by a team of Stevens faculty and administrators including mechanical engineering professor Frank Fisher and university Diversity & Inclusion Executive Director Susan Metz (the principal investigators); School of Engineering and Science Dean Jean Zu; psychology professor Ashley Lytle; and mechanical engineering professor Alexander De Rosa.
Among other components, the project will include sufficient support to fund up to 50 Stevens scholarships for full-time STEM students in need; the development of additional programming on campus to recruit, support and retain low-income high school students aspiring to pursue STEM educations; and a host of institutional efforts, including faculty training, establishment of a one-to-one mentoring program and increased outreach to young alumni to serve as mentors and role models.
The Stevens team will track the selected scholars' progress through Stevens, analyzing the effectiveness of various teaching, learning and institutional elements during their educational experiences.
"This educational grant from the National Science Foundation is a terrific model of how an interdisciplinary team of faculty can have a successful collaboration that supports talented students, innovative research and an opportunity to strengthen diversity and inclusion at Stevens," noted Metz.
"I really believe this project represents the whole of Stevens — academic departments, administrative offices, leadership, faculty and staff — coming together to create an even better environment to support our students," said Fisher. "We are very excited to see how the construct of 'adaptive expertise' can be extended to help create adaptive students and learners who excel inside and outside of the classroom."
The initiative could also potentially lead to the development of a replicable, scalable national model for institutions of higher learning wishing to more robustly support low-income student recruitment and degree completion, added Metz and Fisher.
The NSF-sponsored project begins in June of 2022 and is planned to continue for six years.