$1.5 million grant awarded for STEM scholarships

Published 4:32 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

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Longwood University was recently awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand its LIFE STEM program, which provides scholarships, academic support and hands-on learning experiences for students preparing for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

The funding will be used for renewable scholarships of up to $10,000 per year for academically talented students who face financial obstacles to completing a university degree.  The grant will build on the success of a previous $650,000 NSF grant awarded to Longwood in 2016 to launch the LIFE STEM (Longwood Initiative for Future Excellence in STEM) program, which provided scholarships and special academic programming designed not only to keep students on track in their majors but also to provide critical professional development for postgraduate success.

“Longwood is known for providing personal support and mentoring for students from faculty members and the kind of supportive and nurturing environment you won’t find at larger universities,” said Dr. Larissa Smith, Longwood provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We are very proud of the success of our LIFE STEM program in supporting students’ transition to vital STEM careers. I am grateful for the initiative and hard work of our faculty in applying for this grant and delighted that the NSF is continuing to make an investment in our approach.”

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Through outreach to rural Virginia high schools and STEM educators, the LIFE STEM program will recruit and yield a diverse pool of prospective scholars that will likely include many students who are the first in their families to attend college and who are underrepresented in STEM.

While the initial NSF grant supported 24 LIFE STEM scholars, the new grant will fund support for 45 LIFE STEM scholars with financial need who are pursuing degrees in biology, chemistry, environmental science or physics. Longwood is actively recruiting scholars for the program and the deadline to submit an application is January 25, 2022. Interested students should apply to Long-wood and submit a FAFSA in addition to completing the LIFE STEM program application. The first cohort funded by the new grant will arrive on campus in August 2022.

“We know that the scholarship funding and student support elements help students to succeed in our science programs and in their transition to their careers,” said Dr. Michelle Parry, professor of physics and LIFE STEM program director. “Those are the kind of stories and connections that in-spire me to keep doing this.”

The three multidisciplinary student cohorts will be supported by more than two dozen faculty mentors in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Chemistry and Physics.

Kelsey Thornton ’21 was a member of the initial LIFE STEM cohort and is now a first-year student in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

“This program not only provided me with foundational and exceptional scientific research skills, but also gave me an incredible support system and some of my best friends,” Thornton said.

The hallmark of the LIFE STEM program is a portfolio of student support services, including student cohorts, faculty mentoring and an issues-focused summer bridge program at the Baliles Center for Environmental Education at Hull Springs in Virginia’s Northern Neck. Also, the program will feature four years of professional development activities that will engage students with diverse STEM professionals.

Dr. Alix Fink noted that, in total, the LIFE STEM program has received more than $2 million in funding from the NSF, most of which directly supports student scholarships.

“LIFE STEM scholars, all of whom have financial need, graduate in the STEM fields at higher rates than their peers,” said Fink, who supported the grant development as associate provost for research and academic initiatives and professor of biology.

“LIFE STEM helped me become confident in my scientific abilities and grow as a professional,” said Abigail Harris ’21, a biology major who is now a high-school science teacher in Amelia County. “The program offered me an incredible amount of encouragement and support as well as a lifetime of useful contacts.”

Contact LIFESTEM@longwood.edu with questions about the program.