STEM-focused program sees inaugural success

Three weeks before the student body moved onto Maryville College campus for classes this year, a handful of aspiring scientists, engineers and doctors were already busy preparing for the semester and beyond. This group of first-year students, known as the Scots Science Scholars (appropriately dubbed S3), is a new program funded by the National Science Foundation to increase retention and graduation rates among underrepresented or first-generation students intending to pursue science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).

The program’s long-term goals are to involve the students in research and leadership positions. The funding grant was investigated and principled by Dr. Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics, and Dr. Angelia Gibson, associate professor of chemistry, with the two-fold goal of making STEM majors applicable to career fields and creating a strong academic and social foundation upon which the students can succeed. Additional support came in the form of four peer mentors who are STEM majors and could provide student-to-student insight both inside and outside the classroom.

“We wanted to give them a taste of what science was like, both in college and after college,” Siopsis said.
After being selected last spring, the students began the first phase, a three-week bridge program, on July 31. Along with being introduced to the college’s laboratories and facilities, the students traveled to various places in East Tennessee where STEM is being practiced on a daily basis. On their visit to the Great Smokies Institute at Tremont they collected data on salamanders while their adventure paddling on the Ocoee River taught them concepts related to environmental sustainability and hydroelectricity. Physics and engineering were explored in action during excursions to the CLIMB Works zip line company and Dollywood.

After the success of this year’s pilot group, Siopsis and Gibson have high hopes for continuing the program in the years to come, using this first crew of scholars as a mentor group. They are currently encouraging high school students considering STEM majors to read about the program via Facebook, the blog (www.scotssciencescholars.com) and the Maryville College website.

A number of upcoming S3 events are open to the campus, including presentations from current MC STEM students who gained experience in their fields through various summer internships. Biochemistry students Ravyn Thompson, Onyeka Ononye and Sarah Manning will speak in Sutton 143 on Nov. 11 at 1 p.m., and biology/biochemistry students David Lee Haskins, Winode Handagama and Robert Adams will speak in the Profitt Dining Room on Nov. 12 at 12:20 p.m.

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