Two plus two equals more than four

February 11, 2010

West Texas A&M University is leading a pair of National Science Foundation grants that will add up to gains for science and engineering in Texas and the nation.

In partnership with the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), West Texas A&M is targeting expanding the student pool in science, engineering, and math and strengthening the pathway to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) baccalaureate programs at the university.

"The aim is to recruit freshmen and transfer students with high academic potential and high financial need. The two projects blend scholarships with recruitment activities and student support services to increase academic achievement and allow for a successful university experience," said Dr. Emily Hunt, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at West Texas A&M.

Nationally, research indicates West Texas A&M is right on target. The Pew Research Center reports the number of 18- to 24-year-olds attending college in the U.S. was the highest ever in 2008, an increase driven by a surge in community college enrollments. As more students begin their higher education at community colleges, they add to an ever-growing pool of potential students for bachelor’s degrees in engineering, technology, and the sciences.

These two grants to West Texas A&M are funded under the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Program (S-STEM). Hunt leads the S-STEM project "Teaming Engineering and Mathematics Students" (TEAMS), for entering freshmen. Dr. Pamela Lockwood-Cooke, associate professor of mathematics at West Texas A&M, leads "Connecting Community College Transfers for STEM Success" (C3). Together, the projects have awarded more than 75 scholarships so far.

The motivation for C3 was to make it easier to recruit qualified transfer students, Lockwood said.

"The transfer students already have been holding down jobs as well as attending school, and they have been able to keep up good grades in spite of it all. The comments we most often hear from the students are that the C3 scholarships help because they don’t have to work as much and can spend more time on their studies. Of course, this increases their chances to achieve even more academically. Our plan is to have the transfer students also help mentor the TEAMS freshmen," she said.

As part of its mission to enhance the state’s science and technology educational systems, TEES worked with West Texas A&M to develop the S-STEM proposals. TEES also presented two workshops the university hosted for six regional community colleges to assist them in starting development on their own S-STEM proposals. In the face of rising tuition costs, this partnership’s targeting of community college students is timely.

"We appreciate the support TEES has given through workshop presentations and assistance with proposal development that helped us secure federal funding to provide scholarships for talented high school and community college students in the Panhandle. Our university recognizes the need for engineers and scientists not only in our region but across the state and nation, and we are excited about the opportunities these projects provide our STEM students," said Dr. James Hallmark, Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs and WTAMU TEES Regional Division Director. "We were glad the workshops gave us the opportunity to assist our regional community colleges in their pursuit of scholarship funds for their students and look forward to future partnership efforts with them."

West Texas A&M and regional community college instructors worked together to develop the recently funded S-STEM proposal for transfer scholarships. Three of the colleges have submitted S-STEM proposals themselves and are awaiting results of the NSF review.

The S-STEM projects also will help increase the number of students from groups who are traditionally underrepresented in science and technical fields. Seventy percent of WTAMU students come from 26 largely rural counties in the Texas Panhandle, and about half are first-generation college students. The student population of K-12 public schools in the region is 44 percent minority with 37 percent Hispanic.

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