Azusa, Calif.—California’s growing technological workforce is driving demand for qualified professionals with STEM degrees. Yet low-income, first-generation college students interested in these career fields often encounter barriers. Azusa Pacific University is taking steps to change that with the assistance of a $650,000 National Science Foundation S-STEM grant to recruit, retain, and graduate high-achieving, low-income, first-generation students called to make a difference as computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and physicists.
“This NSF S-STEM grant enables APU, a designated R2 research institution, to deepen its commitment to engaging underserved students in a high level of research with faculty members who are leaders in their industries, which translates to richer learning opportunities and better marketability upon graduation,” said President Paul Ferguson, PhD, DABT. “Recruiting, supporting, and graduating the next generation of STEM professionals supports the university’s Strategic Plan to become a university destination of choice for a diverse body of students, reflecting inclusive academic excellence.”
The NSF S-STEM scholarship grant funds APU’s five-year STEM scholar initiative and research study to improve college accessibility and support for promising students with demonstrated financial need who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics.
“Within California, up to 42 percent of the STEM workforce is from outside the U.S.,” said Louise Huang, PhD, assistant dean of undergraduate studies in APU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “There is a need to raise up and equip a local STEM workforce to meet the demand. The grant will help support future graduates by equipping them through academic and professional training so that they can have direct participation in STEM professions or through STEM-related teaching positions to address these workforce concerns.”
Students accepted into the STEM scholar program benefit from:
- Scholarships: APU plans to award 56 renewable scholarships ranging from $6,000 to $9,000 through the initiative over the next five years.
- Academic Support: Scholars will participate in faculty and peer mentoring, supplemental instruction, and tutoring to support academic success.
- Family Inclusion: Family support plays a key role in contributing to degree completion for first-generation and underrepresented students. With that in mind, APU aims to provide scholars’ families with tools, expectations, and encouragement to shape a supportive learning community for student success.
- Graduation Preparation: Scholars will have access to career guidance from a STEM-focused success coach, as well as summer research with faculty mentors and internship opportunities to prepare for graduate-level study and careers.
As part of the initiative, APU faculty will conduct a research study around the program and scholars’ achievements. According to Huang, few studies have shared findings focused on the impact of structured peer mentoring paired with a substantial scholarship and programmatic intervention for Pell-eligible and first-generation college students.
“The awarding of this NSF S-STEM grant cannot be more timely. By utilizing high-impact student success practices and providing scholarships, the funding reduces the financial gap for many underserved students, as well as offers them excellent training through our STEM programs,” said Rukshan Fernando, PhD, APU provost. “This grant is significant in fulfilling our role as a Hispanic and Minority Serving Institution (HSI/MSI) through the equipping of future STEM leaders.”
This initiative is the next step in APU’s commitment to expanding support for diverse student populations. APU also offers tailored programs for first-generation students such as the GEN1 Scholars program, TRIO Student Support Services, and Academic Success Center to help students as they navigate the college experience.
Key APU faculty instrumental in securing this grant include:
- James Hsi-Jen Yeh, PhD, Principal Investigator and Associate Professor, Department of Engineering and Computer Science
- Bradley “Peanut” McCoy, PhD, Co-Investigator and Chair and Professor, Department of Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics
- Louise Huang, PhD, STEM Liaison and Assistant Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Director, Center for Research in Science
- Christopher B. Newman, PhD, Educational Researcher and Associate Professor, Department of Higher Education
- Tedd Szeto, PhD, STEM Administrator and former Executive Director, Academic Success Center and Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics
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Azusa Pacific University is an evangelical, Christian university committed to God First and excellence in higher education. With 67 bachelor’s degrees, 47 master’s degrees, 18 certificates, 9 credentials, and 9 doctoral programs, the university offers its more than 10,000 students a quality education on campus, online, and at seven regional locations throughout Southern California.