Scholarship and Mentoring Investment in Low-Income, Academically Talented Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Baccalaureate Degree Seeking Students

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project will contribute to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need at the Pennsylvania State University – Harrisburg Campus, a public, four-year institution of higher education. Over its six-year duration, this project will fund scholarships to 30 full time students who are pursuing bachelor's degrees in one of several areas. These include degrees in Biology, Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mathematical Sciences, Mechanical Engineering, (General) Science, and Structural Design and Construction. Three cohorts of ten students each will receive support during their first year at Penn State- Harrisburg and will receive four years of scholarships. Low-income, first-generation students experience several challenges when attending institutions of higher education. Some challenges include higher levels of stress, lower levels of life satisfaction, decreased sense of belonging, and lack of interest in STEM fields. These factors may influence students' persistence in continuing in their majors. This project aims to examine how a series of interrelated project components foster the STEM scholars' persistence related to academic interest, positive attitude, the rigor of the STEM program, and commitment to the STEM program. Additionally, the project will generate knowledge about how institutions can create a series of integrated and interdisciplinary supportive structures that promote STEM students' persistence throughout undergraduate degree seeking, enhancing the learning opportunities for all current and potential STEM students. The project supports NSF's mission to promote diverse, equitable, and inclusive participation in STEM programs. The project will include various robust recruitment strategies and attention to retention through the interdisciplinary engagement of peers, STEM faculty, and representatives from the career fields to foster students' engagement in social and academic experiences. This will include a particular focus on seminars that attend to scholars' socio-emotional needs.

The overall goal of this project is to increase STEM degree completion of low-income, high-achieving undergraduates with demonstrated financial need. Using Prenzel's Persistence of Interest model, the project objectives include: (i) increasing the number of diverse, low-income, academically talented students who enroll in and graduate from Penn State-Harrisburg STEM undergraduate programs; (ii) contributing to the workforce in STEM frontier areas; (iii) implementing curricular and supportive activities that promote scholars' persistence in STEM programs; (iv) identifying factors that, from those curricular and supportive activities, contribute to scholars' persistence to remain in STEM undergraduate programs and successfully graduate; and disseminating knowledge about the role of the STEM components in promoting persistence in undergraduate STEM programs. The interrelated STEM components include scholar support, team-based cohorts, and engagement activities. The structured Multi-Level mentoring and implementation of Scholars Persisting in Academic (SPA) Seminars are two core components of this project. The SPA Seminars are intended to alleviate the stress and anxiety that low-income students experience when taking challenging courses in STEM. Another projecs component is the broader participation of local industry, such as providing internships and mentoring scholars, to accomplish these goals. Sample project deliverables include an industry mentoring plan, sample team-based Calculus modules, scholar research or internship products, and evaluation results. It is anticipated that the lessons learned from applying the persistence framework with the STEM components will enhance the retention and graduation rates of low-income, academically talented students at other institutions. Findings will be disseminated through regional channels for publicly funded four-year institutions, with a focus on how to best gather and present pertinent information needed for widespread adoption. This project is funded by NSF's Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which seeks to increase the number of low-income academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who earn degrees in STEM fields. It also aims to improve the education of future STEM workers, and to generate knowledge about academic success, retention, transfer, graduation, and academic/career pathways of low-income students.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date2/1/221/31/28


  • National Science Foundation: $1,500,000.00


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