The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $4.5 million in collaborative grants to three colleges and universities in Montana – Salish Kootenai, University of Montana, and Montana Technological University – to support Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) scholarships.

The Supporting Talent for Academic Recruitment in STEM (STARS) grants are slated for scholarships for high achieving, low-income students pursuing degrees in STEM fields. A press release from the schools said that researchers plan to use project data to better serve Native American and rural STEM students.

The goal of the project is to “increase STEM degree completion of talented undergraduates with demonstrated financial need,” the organizations said. Specifically, the schools are aiming to increase the first-year retention and graduation rates for each student cohort, improve transition after graduation to either a STEM career or further higher education, and advance knowledge about issues and factors impacting advancement along the academic pathway.

“At Salish Kootenai College, our students predominantly represent low socio-economic populations who are often required to simultaneously seek employment while attending classes to afford their education and support their families,” said Dr. Antony Berthelote, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Mont. “Opportunities like this help students succeed without compromising their potential. The direct financial support to those with unmet need also enhances equity and socio-economic justice by reducing the debt burden often encumbered by our student population.”

The project is slated to run for six years and will fund 260 scholarships of up to $10,000 per year. The scholar ships will go to 105 full-time STEM students who are pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degrees in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics, Physical Sciences, Engineering, Computer and Information Sciences and Support, or Natural Resources and Conservation. Four-year scholarships will be available to bachelor’s degree students, and two-year scholarships available for transfer students and associate’s degree students.

Tying back to their goal of improving the college experience for rural and Native American STEM students, the colleges say the STARS project will “foster culturally-attuned, place-based knowledge in teaching, mentorship, and policy for STEM programs at tribal and non-tribal colleges and universities.” The STARS team will specifically explore how students develop STEM identities and how those identities interact and are integrated into their personal and cultural identities.

Dr. Frederick Peck, a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Montana, said in a statement, “identity has emerged as a cutting-edge research topic, because identifying with a discipline turns out to be vital to students’ persistence and success. Because students are not ‘blank slates’ when they arrive at college, it is important to learn more about how STEM-related identities become integrated into students’ existing identities. Our research will make a major contribution to this effort and have a lasting impact for students in and beyond our institutions.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs