National Grant Will Support STEM Graduate Student Degree Completion

An interdisciplinary team of faculty recently was awarded a grant for nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program. The grant will provide financial assistance to low-income, talented students pursuing a master’s degree in the STEM fields. Grant funds also will be used to evaluate retention and degree-completion strategies at the graduate level.

The grant is led by Arvin Farid, an associate professor of civil engineering. It is supported by Tammi Vacha-Haase, dean of the Graduate College; Lisa Giacumo, an assistant professor in the Department of Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning; Mojtaba Sadegh, an assistant professor of civil engineering; and Don Plumlee, chair and an associate professor of the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering. Over the past decade, Boise State has received numerous undergraduate National Science Foundation S-STEM grants but this is the first grant aimed at the graduate level.

This project aims to develop strategies for recruiting talented students into the College of Engineering graduate programs, to increase retention rates and to provide professional development aimed to support students’ career success.

“Various programs at the Boise State College of Engineering have roughly 30-50 percent first-generation undergraduate students,” Farid said. “But none of these students, despite their interest and talent, move onto graduate – even though the region’s industry has an immediate need for employees with specialties only available with graduate-level education.”

The grant will help fund scholarships for 60 students pursuing graduate degrees in various engineering fields while also seeking to increase post-secondary degree completion by linking scholarships with effective supporting activities and high-impact intervention strategies. These strategies include academic mentoring, cultural or family events, community-building social programs, skills training and workforce readiness support.

This grant will allow researchers to understand how the implementation of various interventions, proven at the undergraduate level, impact graduate students’ success at Boise State.

“Unlike at the undergraduate level, until recently, there has been no externally funded program at the graduate level to provide this large pool of talented students with financial, academic and cultural support,” Farid said. “Additionally, there is a lack of research on reducing compounded barriers facing graduate students in their endeavor, which is also the case across the nation, and we are very excited to be among the pioneers launching this effort at Boise State.”

– George Thoma