By Carla Carlton
With a grant of nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Bellarmine University is creating a scholarship program to recruit low-income, high-achieving students into the STEM disciplines of computer engineering, computer science, mathematics and data science.
The STEM Career Pathways Scholarship program will award annual scholarships of $7,200 each to two groups of 11 low-income, academically talented students for four years—one beginning in Fall 2021 and the second in Fall 2022. When combined with other financial-aid sources, Bellarmine expects the scholarship will cover nearly all direct tuition costs for most of the 22 recipients.
The program will provide career-related experiential learning, through internships or research with industry partners in the community, and help all scholars attain STEM employment or enter a graduate program within six months of graduation.
Career Pathways will also contribute to the local, regional and national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technicians and will help grant investigators better understand the relationships between the program’s elements and student outcomes.
Industry partners that will support career readiness and experiential learning include the healthcare sector (Humana Information Technology, Masonic Homes Kentucky and Apriss) and each will provide a representative to the Tech/Analytics Employer Advisory Board.
“Thanks to the expertise and dedication of our faculty, Bellarmine has made tremendous progress in our effort to secure more federal dollars,” said President Susan Donovan. “This grant from the National Science Foundation—one of the largest federal grants Bellarmine has received—will help academically talented low-income and first-generation students envision and achieve rewarding careers in the STEM fields. It will also strengthen our community by producing ethically minded scientists and engineers trained in the liberal arts tradition.”
“This project is an excellent example of Bellarmine University’s commitment to integrating student learning and success, community impact and scientific discovery,” added Dr. Paul Gore, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost.
Career Pathways aligns with Bellarmine’s strategic plan, which calls for academic innovation, transformative student experiences, expansion and diversification of enrollment, accessibility and affordability, and mutually beneficial partnerships in Louisville and the region.
Bellarmine will work with the Jefferson County Public Schools’ career and technical academies to recruit students. A STEM (Tech/Analytics) Employer Advisory Board will facilitate new partnerships between students and regional employers and will keep faculty members apprised of the skills in greatest demand in STEM industries.
The eight community partners that have formally agreed to collaborate with Bellarmine on the Career Pathways program so far are:
- Appriss Inc.
- El Toro
- Masonic Home Kentucky
- GE Appliances
- The Microsoft Future of Work Initiative
“We are so excited that this NSF grant will support Bellarmine in their efforts around increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in innovative technology fields,” said Alisia McClain, director of Community Innovation and Workforce Development at the Microsoft Future of Work Initiative. “Bellarmine is a trailblazer in the field of education, and we are proud to continue to partner with them in their work.”
Increasing graduates in STEM fields will help to fill significant local industry needs in the ever-expanding technology economy. Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development agency, which has also formed a partnership with Bellarmine, aims to add 6,000 local technology jobs by 2023. By recruiting and training traditionally underrepresented students, the STEM Career Pathways Scholarship program will also add much-needed diversity to the STEM workforce.
“I’m thrilled to see this important federal funding being awarded to Bellarmine to help students meet future STEM industry needs in the careers of tomorrow,” said U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat who represents Kentucky’s 3rd District. Yarmuth said that Louisville will reap the benefits of the grant for years to come.
“This is a much-deserved investment in some of the brightest young minds around and will help level the playing field and increase diversity in key fields. By investing in education, we invest in our workforce, in innovation, and truly in our entire community.”
The NSF Career Pathways grant of $988,470 builds upon a successful $600,000 STEM grant awarded to Bellarmine by the NSF for a program that ran from 2012 to 2018, in which 70% of the enrolled students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the target STEM majors. Based on lessons learned from that program, the Career Pathways program will significantly enhance its Eureka Learning Community, a holistic living-learning community in which non-health- and medical science-related STEM majors share peer, faculty and alumni mentoring and career-related extracurricular experiences. Notably, the university will add a shared curricular component and a stronger focus on career development and industry internship experiences.
Bellarmine will investigate and evaluate the relationship between the Career Pathways students’ demographics and internship/research experiences and their retention and post-graduate success and will compare those factors to other STEM student outcomes. The goal of the program is to achieve a first-year retention rate of 75% and a four-year graduation rate of 70% for the Career Pathways students. These results will help to identify best practices for including underrepresented groups in STEM programs, as well as for creating experiential learning in STEM higher education.
– Carla Carlton is with Bellarmine University.