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UW-Stevens Point awarded grant to help low-income science students succeed

August 26, 2022
UW-Stevens Point biochemistry major Sydney Richetto works with Assistant Professor Katie McGarry, chemistry, one of the co-authors of the S-STEM grant.
UW-Stevens Point biochemistry major Sydney Richetto works with Assistant Professor Katie McGarry, chemistry, one of the co-authors of the S-STEM grant.

A $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant will eliminate barriers for low-income students at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, leading them to in-demand careers in the sciences.

Providing scholarships of up to $10,000 per year as well as academic and career preparation support, the S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) grant will provide scholarships to 10 first-year students each fall in 2023, 2024 and 2025.

Students must have financial need, a major in biology, chemistry or biochemistry and intend to enter the STEM workforce. Admissions will assist in identifying qualified students, who will be contacted with information on how to apply for the scholarship.  Each scholar will be eligible for four years of support.

The grant was submitted and will be managed by faculty in chemistry and biology. It is the first time UW-Stevens Point has been awarded this National Science Foundation grant.

“We realized we have a high number of low-income students in these majors,” said Professor Erin Speetzen, chemistry, a co-author of the grant. “STEM majors can be challenging for these students because of the high number of lab credit hours they require. They have the academic talents to succeed, but the high number of hours they have to work at outside jobs can make completing course work and participating unpaid experiences like undergraduate research difficult. By eliminating these financial barriers, we allow them to persist and reach their goals.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, STEM-based occupations, such as those in life and social sciences, technical consulting and biomedical research, are expected to increase by more than 10 percent in the next 10 years, Speetzen said. These jobs require a bachelor’s degree, which fewer low-income students are able to attain.

“STEM jobs are among the highest paid but have the highest entry barriers,” she said. “We need to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty by getting more low-income students into these fields.”

In addition to scholarships, S-STEM student scholars will receive a first-year seminar course, social events and shared sections of key first- and second-year courses in their major. They will have supplemental instruction and one-on-one faculty mentoring, as well as career preparation through three years of paid, academic-year research experiences and proactive career advising.

The grant also supports the scholars’ faculty members with professional development on inclusive teaching, mentoring and career advising and funds for research supplies.

“We are really excited to offer this opportunity for paid research and career development experiences that will help our students get highly-sought after STEM jobs upon graduation,” said Speetzen.