College awarded two more NSF grants

Sept. 12, 2012
Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications

With one National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project completed this summer, Maryville College is gearing up for two other NSF research projects that will benefit students.

Last month, Dr. Jennifer Brigati, associate professor of biology, successfully completed a three-year, $440,000 NSF research project that examined the interactions of pathways controlled by yeast’s two G protein-coupled receptors.

On Monday, Dr. Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics, and Dr. Angelia Gibson, associate professor of chemistry, received confirmation that their proposal for the Scots Science Scholars (S3) program had been approved for a $400,000 grant from the NSF’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP).

With the announcement, Maryville College becomes the first private college in Tennessee to receive funding through STEP.

According to Siopsis, S3 is a four-year program with a goal of increasing retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students and first-generation students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) majors at Maryville College.

“One of NSF’s goals is to increase the number of students graduating with a major in STEM,” Siopsis said. “The lack of STEM professionals in the United States has been described as ‘a crisis.’”

In their teaching in the College’s Natural Science and Math and Computer Science Division, Siopsis and Gibson have observed that many students who enroll with dreams of becoming doctors, computer programmers and engineers don’t persist in those majors because their secondary school preparation is inadequate.

“We have some students coming from high schools that don’t have labs,” Siopsis said. “We ask them to learn the content for a course, but they also need to learn how to conduct research in a lab, too. It can be overwhelming.”

With S3, the professors hope to give students – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – a “step up” on the skills they need, particularly in math.

“Math is the key to science, and students need to see that to be motivated,” Siopsis said.

S3 will be launched in the fall of 2013 and will center on three components designed to retain and graduate students in STEM fields: a summer bridge program to prepare students for college-level STEM work, a specialized first-year curriculum designed to build community and provide academic support for the students, and a research/leadership experience that is integrated with the Maryville College core curriculum.

In the first three years, the program will serve 16 new students and four returning peer mentors. In the next two years, 20 students and four peer mentors will be included. In all, the professors hope to impact more than 100 students directly.


NSF’s Sociology Program funds faculty research

This month, Dr. Tricia Bruce, assistant professor of sociology, and her students begin working together on a project that will examine diversity within social institutions.

Bruce, who has been researching the topic since 2010, recently was awarded a $26,000 grant from NSF’s Sociology Program, which supports basic research on all forms of human social organization – societies, institutions, groups and demography – and processes of individual and institutional change.

The $26,000 will facilitate collaboration with several students in the 2012-2013 academic year. Bruce also was awarded an additional $25,000 from the Louisville Institute.

According to the proposal’s abstract, Bruce’s research will “examine the question of the accommodation of subcultures in religious institutions via an in-depth, national look at non-territorial parishes in the U.S. Catholic Church.”

“The creation of personal parishes to serve subcultures of Catholics on the basis of ethnicity, language, rite or other reason reveals how religious groups act within a pluralistic religious marketplace driven increasingly by identity rather than territorial ascription,” the abstract continues. “Findings carry significance not only for religious groups in their attempts to accommodate diversity from within but also for a broader understanding of homophily and heterogeneity in American life as revealed in a variety of social institutions.”

Several students majoring in sociology and religion will work closely with Bruce throughout the one-year project, including students enrolled in the College’s SOC301: Social Sciences Research Methods class.

“This will be a great opportunity for students because of the skills, perspective and training that it will provide,” she said. “Plus, the project carries import for society and sociology.”

Bruce said it’s rare for faculty from small liberal arts colleges to be awarded major grants from foundations like the NSF.

“It’s a very competitive field,” she explained, adding that out of 83 proposals submitted last spring, only 14 were chosen for funding.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.