Springfield, Ohio – Building on Wittenberg’s strength in science and its long-standing commitment to the Springfield community through its progressive Upward Bound program, the university recently received a five-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a program titled American Computational Talent Investments for Valuable Access, Training and Experience (ACTIVATE).
The acronym is as lengthy as the program’s potential reach at Wittenberg, starting with four-year scholarships for students in underrepresented demographics. As many as 10 new students interested in majoring in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) field of study will be awarded scholarships amounting to $8,000 per year.
For Eddie Chambers, director of Wittenberg’s Upward Bound, the NSF grant will allow the university to address a complex and varied set of circumstances that prohibit young people from pursuing degrees in STEM fields, including lack of access to qualified teachers, inadequate curricular preparation and lack of encouragement to tackle challenging subjects.
“This grant will seek to reduce STEM student attrition and provide scholarships to aspiring students who choose pathways in science, technology, engineering, and math,” Chambers said. “We must utilize all available talent pools and ensure a STEM-literate society in order to support our technological economy in the 21st century.
“This grant will make it possible to increase the number of underrepresented students in the sciences. Despite the current national emphasis on STEM education, low-income, first-generation and minority students frequently find themselves outside the STEM educational pipeline.”
ACTIVATE is intended to build upon scholarship and curricular efforts recently piloted and extended across Ohio for students to develop computing skills through advanced technologies to complement their academic pursuits in such STEM majors as chemistry, biology, biochemistry/molecular biology, physics, mathematics, computer science, geology and psychology. According to Director of Computational Science Eric Stahlberg, the program is a perfect fit with the distinct strengths of Wittenberg’s nationally ranked liberal arts curriculum, providing for interdisciplinary collaboration and discovery that are essential elements in the preparation of STEM professionals.
“Applications involving computer technology and mathematical models are becoming extremely pervasive throughout the sciences, but also in everyday applications including transportation, medicine, and even smart power grids,” said Stahlberg, also Wittenberg’s computational-scientist-in-residence. “The award is made possible by the combined efforts of many programs on campus, including Upward Bound, First-Year Experience, financial aid and admission.”
In 2008 and 2009, with support from Future Jobs, an Ohio-funded, employer-driven workforce development project, 24 Upward Bound students enrolled in STEM courses designed to strengthen their interest in math and science careers. ACTIVATE is a logical extension of the Future Jobs-supported project as Wittenberg continues to lead the effort to address the need to increase the number of STEM graduates in both the region and across the nation.
“This program has been particularly successful in encouraging students to explore STEM careers, and hopefully, when these students graduated from high school, they will have an opportunity to come to Wittenberg University on a STEM scholarship,” Chambers said.
ACTIVATE is the latest commitment Wittenberg has made to STEM students, thanks in part to its strong discipline-specific majors, departments and supporting interdisciplinary programs. Forty-three percent of all Wittenberg STEM majors who graduated between 2007 and 2009 enrolled in graduate school within one year, prepared well by a growing Department of Energy-supported computational science program, outstanding academic resources, a peer mentor program and a personalized four-year Career Planning and Placement Program.
Before Wittenberg can invest in its students, however, it must attract the best and brightest to study on its historic campus. Since 2009, Wittenberg has welcomed more than 30 first-time Choose Ohio First scholars through two scholarship programs, operated through the Ohio Bioinformatics Consortium and Dayton Regional STEM Collaborative.
The recruitment efforts dovetail nicely with Wittenberg’s Upward Bound program, which has a 30-year track record of enabling disadvantaged students to properly prepare for a college education. The NSF grant doesn’t stop with local Upward Bound students, however; it provides the university with funds to attract students from outside the area and even the state, something the Choose Ohio First scholarships cannot do.
Written By: Ryan Maurer