Research

New S-STEM Program to Provide Scholarships, Support for Students Pursuing Biology, Neuroscience Majors

Jennifer Osterhage
Jennifer Osterhage, assistant professor in the Department of Biology and coordinator of the S-STEM effort at UK.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 17, 2022) — S-STEM, a new program funded by a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will provide four years of scholarship support for up to 15 qualifying incoming students per year majoring in biology or neuroscience in the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences. The average scholarship amount will be $5,000 a year, depending on financial need, going up to $10,000. 

“The goal of the project is to increase recruitment and retention of talented undergraduates majoring in biology and neuroscience at UK who have unmet financial need,” said Jennifer Osterhage, assistant professor in the Department of Biology and coordinator of the effort. “We will accomplish this goal by recruiting these students to actively participate in an integrated set of high impact curricular and co-curricular activities throughout their undergraduate program.” 

S-STEM faculty at UK will work to recruit first-generation students, underrepresented minority students and students from Appalachian counties for the program. The funding will support three cohorts of students starting in fall 2022.  

Faculty members also plan to help students stay on course in a major of biology or neuroscience, both by easing their financial burden and by matching the students with faculty and undergraduate and graduate student mentors in their discipline. The program will include extracurricular activities and a chance at the end of their majors to share their experiences and research with the larger scientific community. In addition, the students will work with the Stuckert Career Center to explore opportunities in biology and neuroscience careers. These activities were designed to foster students’ sense of belonging in their degree programs. 

“Interventions aimed at increasing science self-efficacy and identity will be embedded throughout the curriculum," Osterhage said. “Scholars will have the opportunity to conduct research with a faculty mentor both during their first year — in a small cohort course-based research experience — and as upper-level students in one of more than 100 research labs across the university." 

Osterhage will serve as principal investigator for the project; she will track the progress of the students through the curriculum to see if the evidence-based interventions keep them in their majors. She said increasing retention and graduation rates for biology and neuroscience students at UK will address a need for more STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) professionals that was identified in a 2012 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report.  

“Ultimately, this work will inform expanded approaches for fostering the success of all students in undergraduate STEM majors, encouraging retention and degree progression," she said. “The program will serve as a model for STEM retention efforts both within the university and the larger scientific community.” 

To be eligible for an S-STEM scholarship, students must: 

  • Be enrolled at least half-time as an incoming first-year biology or neuroscience major at the University of Kentucky.  
  • Have a family income that falls below 125% of federally established poverty levels.  
  • Have at least $4,000 of unmet financial need after other sources of aid are applied.  
  • Demonstrate academic potential as defined by an unweighted high school GPA of  ≥ 3.65 or an unweighted high school GPA of  ≥ 3.3 and completion of precalculus or calculus.  
  • Complete a scholarship application. 

For more information on the program, go to bio.as.uky.edu/s-stem.  

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number 2130107. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 

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