Saturday, March 27, 2010

Grant Attracts Minorities to STEM Fields


The University of Texas at El Paso has received a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for nearly $2.9 million.

The “Science for a Sustainable Future: Developing the Next Generation of Diverse Scientists” award will provide fellowships to minority graduate students in NSF-supported disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The doctoral students will build their science and teaching portfolios and bring their leading research findings into K-12 learning settings in an effort to inspire the next generation of scientists.

The fellows will serve as a STEM resource for El Paso’s Early College High School (ECHS) science teachers and as mentors for the students, helping them build practical understandings of science.

“This success in securing federal funding from the National Science Foundation is a good example of the quality of competitive proposals UTEP faculty generate, integrating education and research benefiting our students and consistent with UTEP’s mission,” said Roberto Osegueda, vice president of research and sponsored projects.

A recruitment effort for beginning doctoral students is under way for the program, called NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education. Aaron Velasco, Ph.D., chair of geological sciences; Vanessa Lougheed, Ph.D., assistant professor in biological sciences; and William Robertson, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Education are the faculty leaders who are recruiting incoming doctoral students for the program.

The fellows will help develop ECHS’s science curriculum around the theme “Science for a Sustainable Future,” with a particular focus on the arid Southwest. Specific challenges facing our border desert populations will be addressed:

  • Limited water resources in a changing climate
  • The potential for alternative energy resources
  • A rapidly growing, diverse population and environmental health issues in a multi-national community
  • Geological hazards facing the region

“The idea is to give these students real exposure to the scientific challenges of the region and hopefully inspire them to go into STEM fields,” Velasco said.

The ECHS, recently established in El Paso, brings an innovative approach to high school education by reaching out to young people currently underrepresented in higher education, enabling them to earn up to two years of college credit in addition to their high school diploma, and providing them with the skills to increase their success in college.

One of the goals of this new grant is to complement the current partnership between UTEP and the ECHS and to help facilitate the transition to a four-year university.

The NSF grant complements other training efforts at UTEP and serves to enhance the role of one of the top three Hispanic degree-granting universities in the U.S. as an emerging hub of research and training activities involving the next generation of Hispanic scientists and engineers.

With its growing Ph.D. programs, top faculty, and current demographic, UTEP is poised to lead the way for training minority Ph.D. future scientists and leaders.

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