University Awarded $4 Million to Boost Retention of Minority Students in STEM


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $4 million grant to Syracuse University to lead an effort to develop and implement strategies for augmenting the number of underrepresented minority students pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs of study and careers.

The five-year grant, which runs through 2022, was awarded as part of the NSF’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program to support the continued work of the Upstate New York LSAMP alliance. Led by Syracuse University, the alliance will use the funding to further expand on its efforts to improve recruitment, academic success and persistence of traditionally underrepresented minority students in STEM majors; strengthen the pipeline from community college to four-year study; and develop best practices for better supporting and retaining underrepresented students in STEM fields of study. In addition to Syracuse, the Upstate alliance includes Onondaga Community College, which will serve as co-lead for the project; Clarkson University; Cornell University; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Rochester Institute of Technology; and Monroe Community College.

Syracuse University Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly, who serves as principal investigator for the grant, says the recruitment of underrepresented students into the STEM fields is crucial. “In today’s knowledge economy, the greatest growth in job opportunities will continue to be in STEM-related fields,” says Wheatly. “And yet the number of minority students going on to become STEM professionals continues to lag significantly behind nonminority student numbers. This grant will help us continue to root out the causes behind this disparity and take steps to address them, for the benefit of our students, our Upstate economy and the STEM fields, industries and professions.”

Tamara Hamilton, Dawn Johnson, Andria Costello Staniec, Michele Wheatly, and Julie White

Co-principal investigators are Tamara Hamilton, LSAMP program director at Syracuse and co-principal investigator for the Upstate LSAMP alliance; Dawn Johnson, associate professor and chair of the Department of Higher Education in the University’s School of Education; Andria Costello Staniec, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science; and Julie White, senior vice president for student engagement, Onondaga Community College.

“For an increasing number of students today, community college is the first step toward a four-year degree and the doorway to a successful career,” says White. “Our job as higher education professionals is to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support students as they transition through the education pipeline. The research shows that underrepresented minority students initially attracted to STEM programs may face unanticipated obstacles in their pursuit of STEM careers, and this project will provide us with additional resources to help students successfully address those challenges.”

Hamilton agrees. “In order to prepare the next generation of innovators and STEM scholars, we must develop strategies to successfully attract, support and retain students across all demographics,” she says. “This grant will provide critical support for the Upstate alliance to continue our efforts to better engage and mentor minority students interested in these rapidly expanding fields at all stages of their academic career.”

Under the funded project, the Upstate alliance seeks to collectively graduate 860 underrepresented minority STEM students per year by the end of 2022. It also will work to expand, refine and study best practices for preparing community college students for successful transition into four-year STEM programs. The funding also supports a new component to the alliance’s work—a research study to investigate the role of student research experiences, faculty mentoring and the community college pipeline in promoting persistence and graduation of underrepresented minority students in STEM.

“We know that minority students enroll in STEM majors at the same rate as white students,” says Staniec, who will co-lead the research component of the funded project. “What we don’t know is why they do not graduate with these degrees at the same rate. We hope that this research component will help to illuminate those reasons and provide a solid theoretical foundation for developing solutions to effectively address them.”

“This research component is a tremendous opportunity for us to generate new knowledge that will benefit not only our Upstate institutions but institutions nationwide,” says Johnson, who is co-principal investigator on the research component along with Staniec and Cathy Engstrom, associate professor of higher education in the University’s School of Education.

The Upstate LSAMP alliance was formed 10 years ago to attract and maximize the number of potential students from underrepresented populations, specifically African-American, Latino American and Native American students in Upstate New York who are enrolled in STEM fields. It seeks to develop the next generation of innovators and grow a workforce that is both highly qualified for the knowledge economy and fully representative of the nation’s demographics.

Original story by Carol Boll