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IU Northwest obtains grant from NSF to make STEM degrees attainable for select students

Initiative enables academic, financial support for stellar students in need

Monday Oct 03, 2016

Brittany Armstrong admits that she wasn’t prepared for college after high school in Oklahoma. After a brief stint at the state university, she dropped out and moved to Merrillville.

Not wanting to give up on college, she enrolled at Indiana University Northwest. Then, she learned about a scholarship that could pay up to $10,000 per year for academically superior students with financial need interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). With a dream of attending medical school, Armstrong applied for the scholarship in hopes it could help pay for her undergraduate degree in biology.

Armstrong said that being awarded the scholarship was a “100 percent game-changer” for her.

“Before the scholarship,” she explained, “I was working full-time as a paralegal 45+ hours a week. The scholarship allowed me to pick up a part-time job on campus and not be overly concerned about paying bills and keeping up on financial obligations. I've gone from being a stressed ball of nerves over client interactions and federal court deadlines to being in classes nearly full-time and able to focus on completing homework on my off-time with no issues.”

Thanks to a plan created by a group of IU Northwest faculty members which secured the funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF) last year, there is more to the scholarship than simply tuition. As part of the NSF-AIMS initiative, which stands for Advancing Indiana Math and Science, IU Northwest also provides the scholarship recipients with additional academic support designed to ensure their success. The program applies to students seeking degrees in biology, chemistry, geology, computer information systems, actuarial science, or mathematics.

The cohort-style system includes a one-week STEM orientation prior to the fall semester, a first-year STEM seminar, peer-led instructional and leadership opportunities, and support for joint STEM club activities. Students also benefit from faculty-mentored research or internship opportunities, depending on their majors, as well as job placement assistance. Expanded industrial and community partnerships with local industry create experiential learning for students, while filling the needs of regional employers that are experiencing a shortage of STEM workers.

In order to gear up for the Fall 2016 semester and get off to a great start, the NSF-AIMS Scholars recently convened to work on a group project.

“The program comes with a seminar class that meets for two hours every Friday in which we get great information on different school policies, graduate school requirements, information on the different offices that are available here at IU Northwest - the list goes on. The class has been a wealth of information,” Armstrong said.

The AIMS project, which has set the goal of increasing IU Northwest’s STEM graduates by 10 percent over a five-year period, was proposed to the NSF by a group of faculty at IU Northwest in response to the NSF’s request for proposals to address the national shortage of STEM graduates. The team was led by Professor Bhaskara Kopparty, Ph.D., who served as principal investigator, and included Professors Kristin Huysken, Ph.D., Dan Kelly, Ph.D., Vesna Kilibarda, Ph.D., and Michael LaPointe, Ph.D., who served as co-principal investigators.

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