W.Va. State University Students STEP to Success

W.Va. State University Students STEP to Success
New program aims to increase STEM-related enrollment and retention

 INSTITUTE, W.Va. – West Virginia State University has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling nearly $500,000 to increase the number of students pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The amount is the largest grant WVSU has ever received from NSF as a lead organization and will be disbursed over a five-year period.

With the new funding, the University will launch the STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP), called “STEP to Success,” to implement innovative outreach and student support practices.  

“This funding and our partnership with NSF will allow the University to further develop programs that increase the number of graduates in the STEM majors and disciplines,” said Dr. Orlando F. McMeans, vice president for Research & Public Service. “With ‘STEP to Success,’ we are excited about expanding our efforts toward that ultimate goal.” 

 Studies point to STEM as the emerging leader in career potential, accounting for more than 60 percent of new jobs in the next decade, but the U.S. is ranked 27th of 29 for the rate of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded in developed countries. Undergraduate programs in science and engineering also report the lowest retention rates among all academic disciplines. At WVSU, only nine percent of the student body was majoring in STEM fields last fall.

The “STEP to Success” program will increase STEM interest through a series of progressive objectives over the course of the five-year grant. Strategies include increasing STEM enrollment among first-time freshmen, creating learning communities for students in STEM majors, developing peer-led Supplemental Instruction and incentive-based research opportunities, and targeting industry-specific internships for students. 

In West Virginia, jobs in the STEM disciplines are expected to rise significantly in the coming years. Studies show that the number of STEM-related jobs needed in West Virginia by the year 2018 will near 25,000. To help meet that need, the project has targeted 77 high schools throughout the region to develop recruiting relationships for encouraging more STEM majors. Using faculty trained in recruitment and the outreach efforts of the University’s Center for the Advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (CASTEM), WVSU staff members plan to become a consistent presence in the classroom at these schools to illustrate the value of the disciplines. 

To better prepare students for college-level science and math courses, an annual, credit-bearing, residential summer bridge program will be implemented with funding from the grant.

This focus on STEM-targeted enrollment and retention is in line with the goal of WVSU’s new president, Dr. Brian O. Hemphill, who took office in July. 

“Jobs in the STEM-related fields are on the rise and will continue to be in great demand in West Virginia,” said Hemphill. “This generous support from the NSF will allow West Virginia State to be even better equipped to promote the STEM programs to youth in our region, and to meet the academic support needs of students studying in the science, technology and mathematics disciplines at State,” he added.

NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…" With an annual budget of about $6.9 billion (FY 2010), NSF is the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities.
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