Fostering Student Success and Diversity in STEM

When it comes to persistence and patience, Biology professor and Principal Investigator (PI) Gloria Regisford, Ph.D., can proudly boast that she and her four Co-PIs found the right formula to secure $1 million in scholarships through a grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Over its five-year duration, this project will fund four-year scholarships to 20 students who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Physics(not offered as a major, just a class), or Mathematics.

The winning project, “Fostering Student Success and Diversity in STEM by Combining Scholarship Support with Mentoring and Research Engagement,” is expected to bring in their first cohort of S-STEM scholars to the PVAMU campus in 2020.

Professor Regisford, who joined the Brailsford College of Arts & Sciences in 1997, attributes two reasons that made a difference in their application the fourth time around.

“We received a lot of institutional support in the form of letters from President [Ruth] Simmons, Provost Palmer, Dean [Danny R.] Kelley (Brailsford College of Arts and Sciences) and Dean [Pamela Holland] Obiomon (Roy G. Perry College of Engineering),” she said.  Also, our diverse team of scientists persevered, working even more diligently and cohesively this year.”

The cross-functional team includes Alphonso Keaton, Ph.D., Associate Professor in Biology, Office of Undergraduate Studies, Orion Ciftja, Ph.D., Professor in Chemistry and Physics, James Valles, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in Mathematics, and Fred Bonner, II, Ed.D., College of Education Professor and Chief Scientist of the Minority Achievement, Creativity, and High-Ability Center (MACH-III).

While Bonner will focus on the educational research component, the other four scientists will concentrate on recruiting incoming freshman for the fall 2020 and 2021 cohorts of 10 students/year.

 

The $1million scholarship grant program will focus on academically talented, low-income students.

“These recruited students will be biology, chemistry/physics, and math majors,” Regisford said.  The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) program determines the low-income designation.  The FAFSA determines the type of support a student is eligible to receive in the form of grants, college work-study, or loans, to pay for college.

“The S-STEM scholar will still be able to get financial aid,” Regisford added, “but the student may still need some money to cover college expenses.”

Professor Regisford said the scholarship awards would range from $5,000 to $10,000.  According to Keaton, when it comes to filling that financial gap, it could mean the difference between a promising minority student enrolling at Prairie View A&M University or considering an offer from a competing institution.

“That’s the challenge we’re facing now.  We need to increase the academic profile of our students and recruit top-notch students,” said Keaton, who’s been with PVAMU for 21 years. “This grant allows us to do so.”

With the award in hand, now the real work begins for the five researchers: recruiting the talented students to PV.  The S-STEM recruitment strategy includes visiting Waller, Hempstead, Cy-Fair, Houston and Aldine school districts and then branching out to Dallas.

“We are going out to recruit at the high schools this semester,” Regisford expressed, “although the grant cycle begins January 2020.”

As for Keaton, he is eager to roll out their secret recruitment tool that will surely draw prospective students.

“We’re going to use our Mobile STEM vehicle. It’s a van that’s equipped to do experimentation on wheels,” Keaton said with excitement. “So, we’re going to roll up on those high school campuses, bring students out to the parking lot, and we will perform experiments in chemistry, biology, physics and even math’.

This project aims to increase student enrollment, retention, and persistence. Also, it seeks to improve 4-year graduation rates by linking these scholarships with effective supporting activities, such as cohort-building, undergraduate research experiences, mentoring, graduate school preparation, and participation in discipline-specific conferences.

In addition, as a cohort, the S-STEM scholars will take calculus; become engaged in hypothesis-driven research during the academic year or summer, and attend professional skills development workshops.  Prof. Regisford said she and her team hope that the S-STEM activities will increase retention rate in science, decrease time to graduation to 4 or 5 years and promote matriculation into a STEM graduate program or employment in the STEM workforce.

“We want to institutionalize all the activities.  In addition to the scholarship, we’re going to implement a strong mentoring program.  Our science faculty will mentor the S-STEM scholars, in addition to scientists from industry and government, as well as their peers,” she said with excitement.

Keaton said that the S-STEM scholars would in-turn impact students, not in their program.

“Those scholars will be responsible for mentoring other students who are not directly associated with the program,” he explained. “It’s going to be like a domino effect: those students will branch out and impact other students.”

For more information on the PVAMU S-STEM “Fostering Student Success and Diversity in STEM by Combining Scholarship Support with Mentoring and Research Engagement” in the Brailsford College of Arts and Sciences contact:

PI: Dr. Gloria Regisford at gcregisford@pvamu.edu

Dr. Fred Bonner, Co-PI (Professor, Education)

Dr. James Valles, Co-PI (Associate Professor, Mathematics)

Dr. Gloria Regisford, PI (Professor, Biology)

Dr. Alphonso Keaton, Co-PI (Associate Professor, Biology, Office of Undergraduate Studies)

Dr. Orion Ciftja, Co-PI (Professor, Chemistry, and Physics)