MEMPHIS — Christian Brothers University (CBU) has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support the university’s efforts to recruit, retain, and graduate academically talented students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The grant proposal, entitled “Improving Persistence in Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science” and awarded in the amount of $749,877, is geared toward students who are Pell Grant eligible and in need of financial aid.

The powerful aspect of this grant is that it will provide an opportunity to join our CBU family and to study in theEngineering fields and Computer Science for high-achieving students who may not otherwise have the financial means to do so

Dr. Andrew Assadollahi

“The powerful aspect of this grant is that it will provide an opportunity to join our CBU family and to study in the Engineering fields and Computer Science for high-achieving students who may not otherwise have the financial means to do so,” said Dr. Andrew Assadollahi, Chair of the CBU Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering and principal investigator of the grant. “High-achieving high school students interested in STEM deserve more financial opportunities to access education at CBU — which is known for its STEM programs, and in particular its Engineering and Computer Science programs. We now have the ability to offer those opportunities to more of these great students.”

CBU already supports many students who struggle with financial, social, and academic issues in college, and the socioeconomic profile of CBU students reflects that of the Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) district in Memphis, where one third of families have a median household income far lower than the state and national medians. Nearly one third of CBU’s current STEM students are defined as Pell Grant eligible. Of CBU’s 670 current STEM students, 43.7% are students of color, and 20.7% are first-generation college students.

I am very grateful to Dr. Assadollahi and his co-investigator, Dr. Justin Smith of the CBU Mathematics and Computer Science Department, for working together to collaboratively develop this multi-year program that will help so many deserving students achieve their dream of a STEM degree.

Dr. James McGuffee, Dean of the CBU School of Sciences. 

“This is a significant accomplishment to be awarded such a grant,” added Dr. Faris Malhas, Dean of the Gadomski School of Engineering at CBU. “This will provide an opportunity for the university to support many students who could be challenged both financially and academically. The project will also have a positive impact on our enrollment in these fields.”

Congressman Steve Cohen stated, “This project will contribute to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving students with demonstrated financial need.”

It will also seek to address current needs that are lowering persistence in the participating STEM majors, as even the most academically talented students in this group often lack the same degree of preparation for college courses, socialization to the norms of college life, and understanding of resources available on a college campus, particularly in the engineering and mathematical fields. 

“Not only is this a helpful scholarship program, but there are funds to support specific, evidence-based strategies to improve retention, persistence, and success in students seeking STEM degrees,” Dr. McGuffee explained.

Over its six-year duration, this project will fund scholarships to 15 full-time students who choose to major in Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, or Mechanical Engineering. Each eligible student will receive funding for up to four years. The project aims to increase student persistence and retention by linking the scholarships with effective support activities, including faculty and industry professional mentoring, undergraduate research experiences, graduate school preparation, and participation in discipline-specific student competitions and conferences, plus the provision of technological resources (i.e., laptop computers). The goal is for these students to graduate in four years with a degree in their chosen STEM field and then to be placed in a STEM-related graduate program or in a STEM-related field in the workforce within six months of their graduation.

The final objective of the project is to identify the factors that influence the success of the students in introductory STEM courses that are key to their later success. Evaluation of the project will utilize formative and summative assessment activities to study the effectiveness of the project’s activities. Information about the project will be shared locally with other faculty and staff at CBU and will also be disseminated to the broader STEM education communities.

This project is funded by NSF’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which seeks to increase the number of academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who earn degrees in STEM fields. It also aims to improve the education of future STEM workers, and to generate knowledge about academic success, retention, transfer, graduation, and academic/career pathways of students who are academically talented but financially challenged.

The National Science Foundation’s award abstract for this grant is available online.