The University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) has made considerable strides in promoting diversity and success among low-income students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
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- A $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) enabled UNL to launch STEM CONNECT, a program offering scholarships and mentorship to low-income STEM students.
- The program, active since 2019, was created in response to a growing demand for STEM-educated workers in Nebraska, as identified in a 2022 report from the Nebraska Department of Labor.
- STEM CONNECT has since supported students from UNL and its local partner institutions, Southeast Community College and Western Nebraska Community College.
- Despite the end of grant funding in 2024, UNL plans to apply for an extension to keep the program active until at least 2025.
As reported by Ashley Mowreader in Inside Higher Ed, in 2019, UNL used a $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to initiate STEM CONNECT (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Career Opportunities in Nebraska: Networks, Experiential Learning, and Computational Thinking), a scholarship program aimed at supporting students with high financial need pursuing STEM degrees.
Developed in partnership with Southeast Community College and Western Nebraska Community College, the program was created in response to the increasing demand for STEM-educated workers in Nebraska, highlighted in a report from the Nebraska Department of Labor in 2022. Besides financial aid, STEM CONNECT provides community support and mentorship, helping students stay enrolled and effectively navigate the complexities of higher education. Jim Lewis, the principal investigator for the STEM CONNECT grant, explains,
“Lots of students with ability fall between the cracks because they can’t afford college or they work 25 to 30 hours a week.”
Lewis, an experienced educator and advocate for STEM education, emphasizes the value of the STEM CONNECT program in addressing socio-economic barriers to education. He believes the program’s structure – combining financial support with community-building and mentorship – is instrumental in ensuring students remain enrolled and are equipped to navigate their higher education journey.
STEM CONNECT’s Evolution and Future Outlook
So far, the program has demonstrated promising results. The first cohort, initiated in fall 2019, is set to graduate 11 students from UNL this spring and summer. Despite the NSF grant ending in 2024, UNL is planning to apply for an extension to keep the program active until at least fall 2025, reflecting the institution’s ongoing commitment to fostering local STEM talent and promoting diversity.
In its current phase, the focus of STEM CONNECT is shifting towards supporting community college students, offering guidance through various stages of their academic journey, from securing internships to job hunting. This evolution of the program highlights the UNL’s adaptability in responding to the needs of its students and its dedication to enriching the STEM field with diverse, skilled talent.
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