KWC gets $600,000 to educate science and math students

By Dariush Shafa, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kentucky Wesleyan College has been awarded $600,000 by the National Science Foundation and given a mission — to use that money helping talented, financially needy students get an education in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field.

Under the award, KWC will accept 18 incoming freshmen and 21 transfer students in the fall of 2012, granting them scholarships of $6,000 per year through 2016. The college will fully fund the remainder of their tuition and fees by using sources of funds at the federal, state and institutional levels. The award is the first of its kind in KWC’s history, said Academic Dean Paula Dehn.

“It’s a competitive program,” Dehn said. “You really have to work at it to get it.”

As part of this, KWC will also create a “community” atmosphere with their fellow STEM students. Students who transfer over from the community colleges that are participating (Owensboro Community & Technical College, Henderson Community College and Madisonville Community College) will find that faculty from those schools will be available to them as “secondary mentors,” Dehn said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to encourage students to continue their education. For first-generation students, this is a huge issue. That social support is really important,” Dehn said. “For transfer students, it’s so hard. They leave everything behind when they transfer. (The faculty mentors are) a support system and these faculty are going to continue in that role for us.”

Dehn said the award is especially important because of who it targets.

“If you look at the population of students who are here, 43 percent of our STEM majors are Pell-eligible,” Dehn said, referring to the need-based federal Pell Grant. “It’s a huge opportunity for us and for Kentucky. Our population is really wealthy. This is an opportunity to give kids who are good students a chance to do something they might drop out of because they didn’t have the money.”

Dehn noted that in the STEM areas, KWC’s students have above-average outcomes. KWC has a 95 percent retention rate for science majors. The average retention rate for all students runs from 70 to 80 percent. Also, 60 percent of STEM-area students at KWC go on to graduate, compared to 39 percent nationally, as reported by the National Science Board.

Biology professor Evelyn Hiatt said this program matches up with Kentucky’s goal to have more advanced degree holders working in-state. Students involved in this program will be encouraged, but not required, to take on internship opportunities with high-tech local businesses like Owensboro Medical Health System’s Owensboro Cancer Research Program and Kentucky Bio-Processing.

“One of the NSF’s big pushes in this is to prepare the work force coming down the pipe,” Hiatt said.

Hiatt said though this represents more work for faculty members and administrators, it is well worth the effort if it helps students get an education that can land them a high-paying, high-demand job characteristic of the STEM field.

“Our entire goal is to help our students succeed. This gives us another avenue to help even more students,” Hiatt said. “The big thing for us is to help them find their path.”

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