NSF Grant Funds Major Science Initiative
Getting more students excited about science and engaged in science research is the goal of a major Alma College project that is being funded by the largest federal grant ever received by the College.
The National Science Foundation has awarded $499,950 to fund the Alma College PRISM project, or Positive Routes Into Science and Mathematics. The program focuses on increasing research opportunities for new college students, not only in their first year of college but also prior to taking their first college course.
“Over the last 20 years, there has been a significant decline in the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors in the United States,” says John Davis, Charles A. Dana Professor of Exercise and Health Science. “Studies show that if you get college students actively engaged in science early, they are more likely to stay committed to pursuing science careers.
“The PRISM program at Alma College is designed to increase the number of science students at Alma College through both outreach to Michigan high schools and campus initiatives that create a supportive learning environment with a focus on undergraduate research in the first year of study,” he says. “First, we want to get first-year college students excited about science. Then we want to keep them in the sciences.”
A students does research in one of Alma’s science labs.
Alma College was one of 22 institutions, out of 186 submissions, selected for funding through the NSF’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program, or STEP. The five-year award is the largest federal grant ever received by Alma College.
While many colleges and universities offer research opportunities to upper class students, few offer research opportunities to first-year students, says Davis.
“We see the PRISM program becoming a model for other colleges and universities, especially small liberal arts colleges,” says Davis. “We anticipate a greater yield of students entering graduate programs and careers in the sciences who have had significant undergraduate research experiences.”
Key components of the PRISM program include:
Student recruitment efforts, including discovery projects in which Alma College faculty engage high school students with research in their home schools. An example might include monitoring water quality of nearby streams, with data synthesized at Alma College’s Environmental Studies Learning Laboratory. Other initiatives include Alma’s annual Mathematics, Science and Technology Day for high school students and Alma faculty interaction at high school science fairs. Efforts will include outreach to inner-city high schools and under-represented groups, including the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.
Summer research activities for first-year students before they actually begin college course work. Alma College will invite up to 30 students to work alongside Alma faculty and students in college-level research activities for two weeks prior to their Preterm week.
A culminating research experience in the summer following the first year. Ten students will be awarded stipends for summer research, with the expectation that the selected students will prepare their work for publication and a public presentation at a regional or national conference.
Keeping students engaged in science in their second, third and fourth years of college by preparing them to be research associates with faculty and peer mentors to other students.
Other retention activities include Preterm classes, First Year Seminars and Spring Term classes focused on science research along with invited science speakers to campus.
“The excitement about this program is in getting students involved early in the academic science program at Alma,” says Davis. “Too often, first-year students don’t get connected in the sciences. This is a way to get them involved through hands-on science research before they take a college course and throughout their first year. Our goal is to develop a critical mass of students doing research.”
PRISM is under the direction of Davis; David Clark, Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology; and Myles McNally, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Posted: Mon, September 14th, 2009 at 1:02PM