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College of Arts and Sciences awarded a $1.5 million grant to improve retention, persistence, and success

March 18, 2022

Contact: Kawana McGough, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

Dr. Moses Ntam

Tuskegee University College of Arts and Sciences has secured a $1.5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM (scholarships in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) grant to contribute to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need at Tuskegee University.

Over its six-year duration, the grant "Promoting Excellence, Retention, and Scholarship in STEM (PERSIST)" will fund 92 scholarships to 23 full-time students who are pursuing bachelor's degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. First-year students will receive up to four years of scholarship support. The project aims to increase student persistence in STEM fields by linking scholarships with practical support activities, including mentoring, undergraduate research experiences, service learning, outreach projects, and discipline-specific conferences.

Moses Ntam, associate professor of Physics serves as the project’s principal investigator and submitted the proposal for the NSF grant. Lecia Robinson, assistant professor of Biology, will serve as co-principal investigator and worked closely with Dr. Ntam throughout two proposal submissions over the past two years. Tuskegee was notified in October 2021 that its review for the proposal was favorable and in contention for funding.

"It was while attending the Faculty Research Development Institute (FRDI) at Indiana University Purdue University Indiana (IUPUI) that the idea to compete for the NSF Scholarships in STEM grant was conceived," said Ntam. "We felt very strongly about this journey, and we knew by design or by destiny, the acronym of our project was "PERSIST," so we had no other option but to persist in the face of all adversity including the disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

“I am delighted that our CAS faculty won this award in a competitive program, it would tremendously help our efforts to foster greater participation of under-represented minorities in STEM” said College of Arts and Sciences dean, Dr. Channa Prakash.

Lecia Robinson

As the university is ramping up its efforts to enhance student retention, the grant's goal is to increase retention in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics.

Ntam noted that this project could broaden participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields and learn how mentoring and individual development plans support the retention and graduation of this student population. He cited the overall project includes three primary objectives. The first is increasing first-year retention rates in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The second is graduating over 80 percent of scholars who participate in this project, and the third is investigating factors that promote persistence in STEM disciplines among low-income students.

"This project will be evaluated using a mixed-methods approach with information from surveys, focus groups, interviews, and demographic data. Evaluation questions will be developed based on the project goals and activities. Results of this project will be made available through NSF progress reports, presentations at professional conferences, and journal publications," explained Ntam.

“The scholarship opportunities afforded through this grant will significantly assist in providing a positive trajectory for our STEM majors, and we are proud to receive funding for the NSF S-STEM grant,” said Dr. Robinson. 

Within the six-year time window, Tuskegee looks to become a model HBCU related to ensuring students remain in the success continuum. In addition, the project will seek to improve the education of future STEM workers and generate knowledge about academic success, retention, transfer, graduation, and educational/career pathways of low-income students. Grant team members include Tuskegee University senior personnel; Dr. Marisol Alcantara Ortigoza, Dr. Sherita Fagbodun, Dr. Hussain Elalaoui-Talibi, Dr. Brandon Gines and Dr. Tamara Floyd-Smith.


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