Elmhurst College Awarded $2.75 Million in STEM Grants

August 29, 2019 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

A photo of the exterior of the Schaible Science Center on the campus of Elmhurst College. A blue sign that says "Elmhurst College" is in the foreground.

The National Science Foundation has awarded Elmhurst College $2.75 million in grants to launch two innovative projects that will help students majoring in STEM fields to succeed.

The projects are part of a focused effort by the College to meet the need for more—and more diverse—scientists, technology specialists, engineers and mathematicians.

The projects, each funded over five years, will provide summer research opportunities, enrichment programming, mentoring, scholarships and other ways to create supportive communities and resources for STEM students from groups at higher risk of leaving their major or even leaving college altogether.

One project, which received a $1.75 million grant, establishes an alliance of seven Chicago-area higher-education institutions and one community college that will support STEM majors from populations historically underrepresented in the sciences. Elmhurst is the lead institution on the project, with President Troy VanAken serving as the principal investigator and Assistant Professor of Biology Eve Mellgren serving as project director and co-principal investigator.

The other project, awarded a $1 million grant, is aimed at transfer students attending Elmhurst. It establishes a scholarship program for high-achieving, low-income STEM students, complemented by an August class on the scientific method, “science boot camp” and other activities to help transfer students feel a greater sense of belonging and preparedness. The principal investigators include Professor of Biology Merrilee Guenther, Professor of Biology Stacey Raimondi and Assistant Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Majka.

Both projects are designed to help meet the need for STEM graduates in the Chicago metro area. The projects also build on Elmhurst’s commitment to supporting first-generation college students and students from traditionally underrepresented groups; and highlight the College’s Strategic Plan 2021 pillar of Diversity, Inclusion and Responsible Citizenship.

“These STEM grants help us to carry out our mission of changing lives through education while powerfully demonstrating our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” President VanAken said.

“I am very grateful to the faculty members who recognized the need, seized these opportunities and worked so hard to make these programs a reality,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the impact these initiatives will have on the lives of our students over the next five years and beyond.”

More About the Grants 

The PUMA-STEM Alliance

A $1.75 million National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation grant will establish the Promotion of Underrepresented Minorities in Academic STEM (PUMA-STEM) Alliance, which will foster greater success among underrepresented minority STEM students.

The alliance includes seven four-year institutions (Elmhurst College, Benedictine University, Concordia University Chicago, Dominican University, Lewis University, North Central College, and Saint Xavier University) and one community college (College of DuPage).

“The members of this alliance all share the desire to increase success among underrepresented students studying in STEM areas,” President VanAken said. “Elmhurst College is honored to be the lead institution and awardee of this grant.”

Member institutions will provide students with faculty and peer mentoring programs, high-quality research opportunities, and programs that will promote inclusive experiences and a greater sense of belonging. Alliance-wide meetings also will be held a few times a year, to build a greater sense of community among students from these historically underrepresented groups.

“It’s about bringing the institutions together and doing what we need to do to build community, support our students and help them to graduate,” Dr. Mellgren said. “Our hope is that what we’re doing will become a model for the formation of additional alliances of primarily undergraduate institutions.”

Student research and other programming will begin in the summer and fall of 2020.

The FASST Scholarship Program

A $1 million National Science Foundation grant will establish the Financial and Academic Support for STEM Transfers (FASST) Scholarship Program for transfer students pursuing their bachelor’s degrees in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, information systems, mathematics and physics.

The grant will fund scholarships for 60 transfer students as well as a number of support and retention initiatives, including an August Course-based Undergraduate Research (CURE) class in the scientific method, taken before the students’ first semester at Elmhurst; a STEM transfer-student orientation program; peer and faculty mentoring, and career exploration seminars.

Dr. Raimondi noted that the program is “not just about students acquiring skills and learning to do research in their field; it’s also an opportunity to build community and integrate socially within their disciplines and with the College.”

Dr. Majka agreed: “Through the common language of science, this program is a chance to expose students to other majors in the field as they get to know other STEM students.”

“It’s all part of a larger effort to recognize the unique challenges transfer students face and to make them feel more connected—that’s key to their success,” Dr. Guenther said. Funding for the FASST grant was made possible because of previous NSF funding for the KEYSTONE Project, a five-year program to improve the retention of STEM students at Elmhurst.

The FASST program officially begins in May of 2020, and the first scholarships will be awarded to students attending Elmhurst starting in the fall of 2020.

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