MC awarded NSF grants

T he National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently awarded about $400,000 in grants from their division of undergraduate research to the science department of Maryville College. MC will use this money to start a STEP, or STEM Talent Expansion Program, on campus in hopes of recruiting and retaining students interested in mathematics or the natural sciences.

This program will be known as the Scots Science Scholars, or S3. MC will be the first small liberal arts college in East Tennessee to participate in STEP. The Scots Science Scholars will be a three-part process in which incoming students would participate in a bridge program during the summer before their first year, a specialized first year experience and mentoring opportunities throughout their college career.

The program would start off with four peer mentors helping 16 students each year for three years. In five years, the program will grow to five mentors and 20 students. The bridge program will provide money and room and board for students in STEM majors to partake in orientation exercises. Students will listen to speakers in careers related to science and take field trips to places that highlight people in those careers. Students will also get hands-on experience in labs and research opportunities. After the lab, they will learn the math behind the lab which they have just participated in.

Seniors who will be participating in their senior studies will receive help from these S3 students in their lab work, benefiting both the seniors receiving additional help, and the scholars who will gain experience. The Scots Science Scholars students will also learn about the multiple ways research can be done on campus, and will implement this research for the benefit of the campus. For example, a sample research question that the Scholars will address is if the college would benefit from putting a cover over the pile of woodchips that the college uses for energy.

Students will find out how much energy is wasted because of wet woodchips in a lab, and calculate after how long a cover would pay for itself.

“The math and science content is not delivered, but discovered,” said professor of mathematics Dr. Maria Siopsis who co-wrote the proposal to NSF for the grant and will help S3 students relate math to the science they will learn. After this bridge program, the S3 students will spend the first year in the same math and science class while reinforcing the elements learned during the summer.

They will also be in seminar courses that are more focused on the STEM world. During J-term, the Scholars will participate in research projects that use certain techniques that would assist in performing experiments and analysis. After the first year, the students will be engaged in a research studies and experiments that will culminate in their senior study.

The students will gain help from other peers, professors and alums in related fields. They will also develop leadership skills through their professors, helping others in their classes and also recruiting and mentoring incoming S3 students in their areas.

According to professor of chemistry Dr. Angelia Gibson, one of the biggest goals of this program is to help students get a smooth transition between high school and college, while also helping in their coursework. Gibson is one of the professors who wrote to the NSF for a grant and will support S3 by coordinating the lab material.

The program will begin with next year, with the bridge program being implemented during the summer of 2013.

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