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  • 2020-09-28
  • Anthony Arnone

SUNY Brockport Receives $1 Million Grant from the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will support low-income students pursuing STEM degrees.

Eligible organizations can only submit one Research Partnerships proposal per year to the National Science Foundation (NSF). After two previous submissions, the third time was the charm for Professor of Mathematics Rebecca Smith, who took the lead in securing $1 million in funding for low-income students who demonstrate high academic prowess in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at SUNY Brockport.

Out of the proposal came a new initiative: Community in Mathematics, Computing Sciences, and Physics Scholars Program, which is an addition to the previously NSF-funded S-STEM Scholarships program. The new proposal submitted by Smith for the S-STEM Scholarships program adds new strategies and resources dedicated to student knowledge-generation in addition to existing scholarships.

The program will now provide 24 $5,000 scholarships per year for junior, senior, and graduate students in the fields of physics, mathematics, and computing sciences — totaling 120 scholarships for Brockport students. The rest of the funding will be used over five years to send students to conferences and contribute to community-building and retention efforts that ensure students take full advantage of the program throughout their time at Brockport.

The proposal for the grant was originally due March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep across New York state, but the deadline was extended a month for the proposals to integrate COVID contingency plans. The new requirements called for an explanation as to how proposed programs would continue to properly function and utilize funding during these extreme circumstances. The majority of the Brockport program was unaffected, with students able to continue utilizing research facilities and academic resources on campus this fall semester. The most challenging component to adopt was the community-building aspect of the program, which will need to move to a digital medium because of meeting space limitations.

“Students will begin their monthly meetings online this semester as we continue to move our efforts toward a digital and socially distanced experience,” Smith said.

One major goal of the program was to increase retention and graduation rates within the STEM fields.

“The NSF was looking for the proposal to show that we could use the money for more than just financial assistance for our students,” Smith said. “This was the driving force behind the addition of a knowledge-generation portion of the program.”

Carol Wade, associate professor of education and human development, played a key role integrating efforts toward student knowledge-generation into the program, including internship opportunities, a formal peer-mentoring program, and monthly community meetings. These meetings are intended to lead to community-building among the students, which in turn should help increase retention. The S-STEM scholarship program that preceded this grant achieved 97 percent retention and an increased on-time graduation rate within the STEM fields.

“While Carol and I did the writing for the proposal, we wouldn’t have been able to finish it without the help of Justine Briggs (Coordinator of Scholar and Grant Development) and Laura Merkl (Contract and Grant Administrator),” Smith said. “The entire process was a group effort involving faculty members from the Departments of Mathematics, Physics, and Computing Sciences, as well as members from our admissions team.”

Last Updated 10/1/20

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