College earns $1M grant for low-income STEM students


Courtesy GVSU/Amanda Pitts

A local college has earned a $1-million grant to support its low-income STEM students.

Grand Valley State University said last week it received the grant from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in STEM program.

The grant supports a GVSU project called Retaining and Inspiring Students in Science and Engineering, or RISE, which will create a set of progressively increasing four-year scholarships for at least 50 GVSU students who may not otherwise afford a college education.

RISE will also provide faculty mentors and experiential learning opportunities, such as summer research and internships, and career preparation tactics.

Additionally, the project team will enlist area community colleges, including Grand Rapids Community College, Northwestern Michigan College and Muskegon Community College, to help identify potential RISE scholars at their institutions and provide mentoring for those students before they enroll at GVSU.

RISE will offer scholarship opportunities to GVSU students in all grade levels, with an emphasis on incoming first-year students.

“Research shows that up to 60 percent of students who begin their freshman year as STEM majors leave the STEM disciplines in their first two years,” said Deborah Herrington, GVSU professor of chemistry and associate department chair and RISE co-principal investigator.

“This attrition from STEM is highest for low-income and under-represented students. Many students who change their major are capable of success in a STEM field, but for financial and time reasons, they change to disciplines that may appear to require less time and less structure.”

Through an in-depth evaluation, the RISE project team will investigate the structures of the program that help support student retention and graduation, roadblocks to graduation for students coming from low-income households and student perceptions of the value of the different elements of RISE’s experiential learning opportunities.

Herrington said the project team is working to open the application process in May, with the program beginning in fall 2018.

The RISE project will be co-led by several people at GVSU: Herrington; Paul Plotkowski, dean of the Seymour and Esther Padnos College of Engineering and Computing; Charlie Standridge, associate dean of the Padnos College; and Jerry Johnson, associate professor of social work.

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