NSF renews grant to STEM Alliance

The number of graduating minority STEM students has doubled since 2007.

by Simon Benarroch

The National Science Foundation  renewed its $2.5 million grant  to the North Star STEM Alliance, a University of Minnesota-led group of higher education institutions.

Five years ago, North Star set about doubling the number of underrepresented students — African-American, Latino, Native American, Alaskan Native and Pacific Islander — graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields.

They have all-but reached their goal, raising the number from 136 students who graduated in 2004-05 to 261 in 2012, according to Robert J. Jones, senior vice president for the Academic Administration and the principal investigator for North Star.  Over the next five years, they hope to again double that number.

Using the grant money, underrepresented students are engaged through brown-bag seminars, for which they receive stipends, said Paul Strykowski, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering .

The NSF grant is “seed money,” Strykowski said, and meant to give institutions the resources to hardwire these student benefits into their infrastructure. Ultimately, the money is meant to go back to the students, he said.

This could come in the form of mentorship, tutoring or financial aid.

“Basically it gives you a laundry list of resources,” said Lucas Caretta, a chemical engineering student.

Josh Colas, a University STEM alumnus and civil engineer with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said North Star provided him with mentoring when he needed it.

He said North Star helped him decide which civil engineering track to pursue.

“Otherwise,” he said, “I’d be job hunting like everyone else.”