The partnership project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), will help more students access a college education in growing STEM fields during the next five years. It also expands on previous multi-million dollar grants to support STEM education at St. Cloud State from the NSF.
The Academic Collaboration and Coordination Model to Ensure Student Success in STEM (ACCESS STEM) partnership announced this fall earned a $5 million NSF Scholarships in STEM (S-STEM) grant to provide scholarships and support to Federal Pell Grant eligible students at St. Cloud State and Anoka-Ramsey Community College, North Hennepin Community College, Ridgewater College and St. Cloud Technical & Community College.
ACCESS STEM will support 60 scholarship recipients at the community colleges and 40 recipients at St. Cloud State. The community college students then have the opportunity to transfer to St. Cloud State and continue their scholarship in pursuit of a four-year degree in STEM. The institutions are seeking applicants now and the first set of scholarships will be awarded in March.
Even though ACCESS STEM scholarships have not yet been awarded, students like Matt Kruger are already seeing the impact of St. Cloud State scholarships funded by the NSF.
Kruger transferred to St. Cloud State University this fall to complete his bachelor’s degree thanks to a university partnership with Lake Superior College and Century College in cybersecurity and the $3.7 million CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service NSF grant program that is helping him make the transition through scholarship.
“It will allow me to continue my education, get a four-year degree and have the potential to work in the government and do what I wanted to do most — help people,” Kruger said of his scholarship. “Thank you everyone. Especially the National Science Foundation — it means a lot to me.”
In the past five years, St. Cloud State University has secured more than $12 million for student scholarship programs from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The NSF is one of our key partners in advancing student success,” said Interim President Ashish Vaidya. “We have been fortunate to receive consistent support from the NSF.”
ACCESS FOR EVERYONE
ACCESS STEM is about making STEM education available to academically strong low-income students, said lead grant writer Latha Ramakrishnan, dean of the School of Graduate Studies and associate provost for Research and Sponsored Programs.
ACCESS STEM is also about more than scholarships. While financial concerns are the biggest barrier for low-income students succeeding in college, some students are also kept from succeeding because of feeling that they don’t belong, don’t have the tools to succeed or don’t transition well from a community college to a four-year university, so ACCESS STEM is really about helping students get past all the barriers to success, she said.
A team of faculty from the five institutions worked together to seek the grant, which is the first multi-institution project funded in Minnesota by an S-STEM grant. Minnesota State now has seven active NSF grants totaling $23 million that benefits nine of its institutions.
Of the 1,536 active National Science Foundation S-STEM grants only 1 percent are funded for more than $4 million, which means the ACCESS STEM consortium is among the top 1 percent of grants by funding, said Minnesota State Interim Chancellor Devinder Malhotra.
“This is a celebration of the NSF ACCESS STEM grant received by St. Cloud State and its community college partners and it validates their efforts to recruit, retain and graduate more students in STEM fields who might not otherwise participate in the STEM workforce,” he said of the grant.
In addition to providing scholarships, ACCESS STEM will provide opportunities to enhance the student experience by increasing access to STEM for low-income students and students of color, work toward creating easier transfers between colleges and universities and increase student services to connect students early with access to research opportunities and professional career advice, internships and job opportunities.
A large part of the grant is about researching what interventions work best to help low-income students succeed in STEM.
“One of our goals is to eliminate the transfer shock that students see coming from a two-year school to a four-year university,” said Mark
Petzold, a St. Cloud State professor on the ACCESS STEM team.
People from all five institutions are working together to develop a seminar class for all ACCESS STEM scholars to take together in the first semester. This will introduce the students to one another via online discussions or interactive video classes and through ACCESS STEM events at St. Cloud State.
In addition, each institution will offer its scholars tutoring, mentoring, research opportunities and learning assistants who will be there to support them through their first semesters in STEM.
“What NSF really wants to see us do is produce research that shows this is best practices and then have those best practices become entrenched in the institutions,” Petzold said. “Then when the grant is done, we’ll still be doing these things because they’re benefiting students and it’s part of the institutional culture.”
Work to assess interventions has already begun, said Melissa Hanszek-Brill, a St. Cloud State professor and ACCESS STEM team member. Most of the research into success in college has focused on the reasons why students leave. This research is seeking to find the reasons students stay in school and graduate, so the university can support those factors, Hanszek-Brill said.
Last year St. Cloud State Professor David Robinson, another ACCESS STEM team member, worked with his students to create a 250-question survey designed to search for a predictive model for belonging. Sense of belonging is important to success in college because it is a better predictor for student success than even academic performance, Hanszek-Brill said.
Partnerships serve students
In an effort to serve students better, St. Cloud State University is leveraging existing relationships with organizations to provide students opportunities for seamless transitions into a four-year university and more opportunities to advance into the workforce.
St. Cloud Technical & Community College
Through this partnership, St. Cloud State and St. Cloud Technical & Community College are working together to create a dual enrollment and dual admissions process, so that students will only need to complete one application for enrollment at both institutions. The institutions are also developing clearly-articulated Transfer Pathways and working together to develop 2+2 degrees to create affordable pathways for high-demand degrees, among other collaborations.
Northland Technical & Community College
St. Cloud State and Northland Technical & Community College are working together to enhance GIT and UAS curriculum modeling for broad disciplines, establishing collaborative educational pathways through dual-credit and 2+2 articulation and expanding GIT and UAS professional development opportunities and educational resources.
Among other collaborations, Chartwells and St. Cloud State are working together to: Establish an internship program at Chartwells, develop an international student success program, create professional development opportunities for Chartwells and its parent company
Compass Group and to explore opportunities to support St. Cloud State’s Sesquicentennial.
What Robinson and his team found was a of set factors that predict a student’s sense of belonging. They worked this summer to narrow down their survey questions to the ones that related most directly to the factors that predict belonging. This survey will be given to ACCESS STEM students next fall to assign students to the interventions that should have the most impact. And then also be used to gauge the success of interventions as the scholars progress through their education, Hanszek-Brill said.
She added that it’s exciting to begin research that could have an impact on a large number of students — first at St. Cloud State and in the Minnesota State system but eventually throughout the country as the research is completed, published and put into practice.
ACCESS STEM is one way St. Cloud State is working to find better ways to serve historically underrepresented students — students of color and low-income students, Vaidya said.Many of these students start their education at a community college, so St. Cloud State is working on partnerships with two-year colleges throughout the Minnesota State system to improve the transfer experience.
“This will help them become those productive students, with the skills needed for the workforce in the 21st Century knowledge-based, global economy,” he said.
The ACCESS STEM grant is the second multi-million dollar NSF grant St. Cloud State has earned based on partnership with a two-year college. The College of Science and Engineering is pioneering new models within the system to bring together four-year and
two-year institutions through curriculum development, articulation agreements and initiatives for developing degree-completion programs at the two-year campuses.
MEETING WORKFORCE NEEDS
At an event to celebrate the ACCESS STEM partnership in September at North Hennepin Community College, Melissa Steigler, a director of project management at Emerson, said she was encouraged by the efforts within Minnesota State to work together to support STEM.
“The demand for STEM talent is strong today and is only going to increase in the years ahead,” she said. “We need that STEM talent for American businesses to remain competitive and to drive innovation.”
Manufacturing is one of the biggest areas of opportunities for high-tech STEM jobs today, and manufacturing is just one field. STEM workers are also needed in agriculture, consumer goods and many other areas, she said.
“For those of us in those industries that means we have our work cut out for us to communicate the benefits of STEM and how they apply to our evolving needs,” Steigler said. “For students who are looking to map out their career options, STEM education means one thing — unlimited opportunity.”