Participant Support Cost Scope: Supporting Biology and Neuroscience Undergraduates with Scholarships and Development of Science Identity, Belonging, and Self-Efficacy

Grants and Contracts Details


Supporting Biology and Neuroscience Undergraduates with Scholarships and Development of Science Identity, Belonging, and Self-Efficacy PROJECT SUMMARY The number of graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields does not meet the demand for STEM professionals in the United States. Increasing the national STEM workforce will require recruitment and retention of undergraduate students in STEM majors. However, nearly half of the undergraduate students who pursue STEM disciplines ultimately change fields. The University of Kentucky (UK), Kentucky’s flagship university, is uniquely positioned to provide STEM students with affordable access to life-altering education and social capital. The Department of Biology houses two undergraduate majors, Biology and Neuroscience, which collectively enroll over 1,700 undergraduate students. Institutional data demonstrate that the majority of students initially majoring in Biology and Neuroscience either leave the university or switch majors. Institutional data also show that unmet financial need affects retention and academic performance. The overarching goal of the proposed project is to increase recruitment, matriculation, and retention of talented domestic, low-income undergraduates majoring in Biology and Neuroscience at UK. We will accomplish this goal by recruiting and mentoring low-income undergraduate students to actively participate in an integrated set of high impact curricular and co-curricular activities throughout students’ undergraduate program. The program has three specific objectives: 1. Provide scholarships for Biology and Neuroscience undergraduates with financial need. First-generation students, underrepresented minority (URM) students, and students from rural Appalachian counties will be heavily recruited. We will provide scholarships of up to $10,000 to lessen financial need for an average of 15 incoming first-year students per cohort. Three cohorts of students will be supported by the scholarship. 2. Implement evidence-based curricular and co-curricular programming to develop STEM skills and strengthen science self-efficacy and STEM identity. We will execute integrated programming grounded in evidence from the literature and past successful initiatives at the university. The program will harness existing infrastructure designed to support undergraduate research and student success. The underlying theme of this programming will be to develop students’ science self-efficacy, belonging, and identity. Cohort activities will include a robust, tiered mentoring system, which will provide S-STEM scholars with an undergraduate peer mentor, a graduate student mentor, and a faculty mentor. The mentoring model affords bidirectional benefits for mentees and mentors. Curricular programming will span the scholarship period, beginning with a section of the university’s academic orientation designed for S-STEM scholars. Interventions aimed to increase science self-efficacy and identity will be embedded throughout the curriculum. Scholars will have the opportunity to conduct research with a faculty mentor both during their first year (in a small cohort course- based research experience) and as upper-level students in one of over 100 research labs across the university. S-STEM programming includes a partnership with the UK Stuckert Career Center to offer new internship opportunities and alumni mentorship for students entering the workforce after completion of their bachelor’s degree. S-STEM scholars will participate in a capstone experience to share their experiences and knowledge with the larger community. Co-curricular activities will build community, offer networking opportunities among cohort members and mentors, and facilitate meaningful connections with the larger scientific community, all of which support a sense of belonging in the discipline. 3. Generate knowledge and disseminate to the broader STEM education community. A comprehensive evaluation plan will be used to assess the program. Data gathered in Years 1 and 2 of the program will be used to inform adjustments and improvements in subsequent years. Knowledge will be disseminated to campus leaders as well as to the broader STEM education community. Ultimately, the successful aspects of this program will be expanded into larger curricular reform efforts. Intellectual Merit: The S-STEM program will incorporate evidence from interdisciplinary scholarship and past successful initiatives at the university to execute four years of integrated curricular and co-curricular programming. The program will serve as a model for STEM retention efforts within the university and workforce development in the larger scientific community. Broader Impacts: This integrated program will broaden participation of a critical cohort of talented low-income students in the biological sciences at UK. While these students aspire to improve their socioeconomic standing and contribute to the US STEM workforce, their potential often goes unrealized because of financial stress. Through the skills developed and the connections made through S-STEM, scholars will be uniquely qualified for graduate programs and industry. Ultimately, this work will inform expanded approaches to foster the success of all students in undergraduate STEM majors, encouraging retention and degree progression.
Effective start/end date12/1/2111/30/27


  • National Science Foundation


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