ORLANDO – Valencia College, Seminole State College and Lake-Sumter State College have been awarded a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to increase the number of minority students moving into majors in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) when they transfer to four-year universities.
Valencia is leading the partnership, which is one of five in the nation to receive the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) “Bridges to the Baccalaureate Alliances” grant. The Bridges to Baccalaureate Alliances grant is funded by the National Science Foundation.
“Across the country, we have seen a disproportionately low number of minority students pursuing degrees in math, science and engineering,” said Dr. Kathleen Plinske, president of Valencia College’s Osceola and Lake Nona campuses and principal investigator for the grant. “We have identified a number of strategies that we will be able to implement through the grant to encourage students’ interest in STEM fields and support their success.”
The goal is to double the number of under-represented minority students who pursue bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.
At Valencia, Lake-Sumter and Seminole State, 763 (or 16.4 percent) of the 4,656 students who transferred to the University of Central Florida in 2011-12 were STEM majors. Of those STEM majors who transferred to UCF, 321 were minority students – or 6.9 percent of all the students who transferred to UCF from the three state colleges.
The proposal calls for Valencia – and its partner schools, Seminole State and Lake-Sumter State – to hire a full-time project director and full-time STEM advisors who can help students interested in STEM careers choose courses and guide them through the transfer process to a four-year state university.
“Community colleges have long served as the primary access point to higher education for minorities and first generation in college students,” said Dr. Charles R. Mojock, president of Lake-Sumter State College. “Lake-Sumter State College has seen steady growth in these populations over the past several years so we were very happy when we received the news of our grant award. We are excited by the prospect that these funds will provide us the resources to reach out to our targeted students. We will make them aware of STEM opportunities, encourage them to consider these areas of study and equip them with the tools they need to successfully pursue STEM fields that lead to high wage-high demand careers and bolster our national economy at the same time.”
At Valencia, three STEM advisors will be hired. During the first year of the grant funding, the college will add a STEM advisor at Osceola Campus, followed by a STEM advisor at East and West Campuses in the subsequent years of the grant.
Students at all three colleges will receive extra help in science courses that are the basis for many STEM majors. Grant funding will enable the colleges to hire Supplemental Learning leaders in STEM science courses. SL leaders are students who have already completed the class and earned an A. As SL Leaders, they meet with students before and after class, set up study sessions and help coach students through the class.
Valencia already has a well-established SL program for math classes, but the grant will enable the colleges to provide Supplemental Learning leaders for science courses usually required for STEM majors, such as biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and introductory physics.
The LSAMP grant will also provide:
- Scholarships and research stipends so that students in the program will receive funding to help professors conduct research.
- New STEM career “skillshops” – occasional lecture series in which professionals in STEM careers come to campus to talk about their jobs.
- An annual undergraduate research colloquium, at which students from the three colleges will showcase their research.
- Seminars and summer workshops for Central Florida high-school STEM teachers.
“We truly believe that diversity supports creativity and innovation, and there has never been a more important time to foster that in the STEM fields than right now,” said Dr. Stephen Summers, associate vice president of the School of Arts and Sciences at Seminole State College. “We’re excited here at Seminole State to join in this effort to support and sustain traditionally under-represented students in STEM as they ultimately pursue a baccalaureate degree.”
Plinske will serve as the principal investigator for the grant. Dr. Debra Hicks at Lake-Sumter State College and Summers at Seminole State have been named co-principal investigators.
“While all of Valencia’s campuses will be deeply involved in this work, it’s important to note that the Osceola and Lake Nona Campuses will have a critical role to play in this grant project,” said Plinske. “With our 20 science labs, our UCF Regional Campus offering a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science, and our emerging focus on the life sciences, we will need to step up to the plate in a big way.”
As the lead institution on the grant and the largest of the three colleges, Valencia College will receive $750,000 in grant funding, while Seminole State will receive $450,000 and Lake-Sumter will receive $300,000 over the three-year grant period. Valencia College, Seminole State and Lake-Sumter, all part of the Florida College System, serve nearly 100,000 students in Central Florida.