MC awarded $1 million NSF grant

Maryville College awarded $1 million NSF grant

Aug. 5, 2019

S3 LogoThe National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a five-year, $1 million grant to Maryville College to fund the College’s Scots Science Scholars (S3) program.

Now in its seventh year, S3 is a four-year program with a goal of increasing the number of students graduating with a major in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at Maryville College.

Dr. Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics, and Dr. Angelia Gibson, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and associate professor of chemistry, are the co-directors of the program.

“We were experiencing a trend at Maryville College that was also going on nationally: students were enrolling in college, intending to major in the sciences and math, but only a fraction of those students were completing them, often changing majors in their first or second year. At the same time, the need for STEM professionals was increasing and continues to do so,” Siopsis explained, adding that in Tennessee alone, STEM-related occupations will account for 11 percent of all new jobs over the next three to five years. “The program was developed to meet the needs of the students and the local and national community. By addressing student needs and supporting them to succeed in their selected majors, they can be at the forefront of technological and scientific advances that will benefit our community and our nation.”

The Scots Science Scholars program launched at Maryville College in the fall of 2013, centering 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 last six years, 97 students have participated in the program.

“The program increased retention among STEM majors at Maryville College and helped erase differences in retention between students of differing economic backgrounds,” Gibson said. “Since the start of the program, the number STEM majors at MC has increased by 52 percent due in part to the Scots Science Scholars but also to a variety of efforts made across campus and by our colleagues in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics divisions.

“We are incredibly grateful for all the support from staff, faculty and administration on campus, who helped make Scots Science Scholars successful,” Gibson said. “So much of that success can be attributed to the extraordinary Lindsay Walton ’09 who runs our STEM Success Program and the dozens of peer mentors and tutors who have spent so much time working one-on-one with the participants.”

Gibson said that in addition to support from various people, she believes the success of the program comes from building STEM identity and capital early on. The S3 participants come in before their first-year classes begin and form a tight-knit cohort.

“They learn what it means to be a STEM major – from the excitement of working with interesting and smart people on cool projects to the realities of studying and grappling with challenging homework for hours at a time,” Gibson continued. “During the academic year, the Scots Science Scholars are a visible part of the MC community, volunteering at STEM outreach and recruiting events and participating in student life. Many have gone on to do successful research projects.”

In addition to enabling Maryville College to continue to offer the S3 program and its existing programming, the NSF grant will broaden the program’s impact to create a culture of STEM at MC; provide scholarships for high-achieving students with financial need; and provide additional academic and professional mentoring and advising that should help students persist to graduation.

“We are building on the successful components of the program to better serve more students and especially academically talented students with high financial need,” Siopsis said. 

The grant also will allow for the creation of the LASER Center (Leveraging Academic Support, Experiences and Research), which will serve as a hub coordinating academic support and STEM-related activities on campus. The College already provides extensive academic support through its Academic Success Center and professional development counseling, as well as opportunities for job placements and internships through the Maryville College Works curriculum and the Career Center.

According to the co-directors, the LASER Center will coordinate with and supplement existing programming at Maryville to provide STEM-specific academic support and structured tutoring through the STEM Success Center, which was originally funded with a grant from Arconic. The LASER Center also will work with faculty and the Career Center to help students plug in early to STEM research, service projects and internship opportunities.

 “At Maryville College, community is very important,” Siopsis said. “We are all members of our campus community, and that identity is important. It is also important for students interested in STEM majors to be introduced to and accepted into the community of STEM professionals. In order for this to happen, students need to learn about the culture, its norms and expectations, and then work to attain those.

“With existing S3 programming, the work of the LASER Center and a core group of Scots Science Scholars to serve as role models, we hope to create a culture of support and success that will impact all STEM majors at Maryville College,” she added.  

This fall, a new themed residential community will be piloted, making S3 students the core residents on a floor of STEM-interested incoming students.

This is the fourth NSF grant Maryville College has received in the last 10 years, including a $400,000 grant from the NSF’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) that provided the initial funding for the S3 program in 2012. Arconic and General Electric also have provided support for the S3 program.

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”