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West Virginia First-Generation College Students Get Major Boost to STEM Opportunities


Newswise — West Virginia’s First2 STEM Student Success Alliance has received a total of $2,406,954 in new funding as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) INCLUDES grant program, which helps to develop and maintain a diverse, innovative workforce in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

This initiative in West Virginia is one of five such programs nationwide to receive NSF funding under this grant program.

The First2 STEM Student Success Alliance develops and pilots activities for rural, first-generation students attending West Virginia colleges and universities. These programs provide early, first-hand STEM research experiences and support student leadership through STEM skills development, peer mentoring, and student advocacy.

This new grant will also enable the program to expand on the success of the work of the previous two years, growing the Alliance across West Virginia, helping to greatly increase the number of successful college graduates in STEM in the state.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with many of the excellent educational institutions all across West Virginia,” said Karen O’Neil, director of the Green Bank Observatory, one of the leading institutions on the Alliance initiative. “In just a short time, this program has made a huge impact, both in increasing the opportunities for many of our rural, first-general college students. The Alliance will dramatically increasing the number of college graduates across the state in STEM fields.”

The success of the Alliance rests on three critical approaches. First, it improves student preparation for and transitioning to college. Second, it endeavors to replace ingrained institutional practices that stifle the development of STEM self-efficiency. Finally, it develops a FIRST2 Ambassadors program that guides undergraduate students to explore and minimize the disconnect between rural life and STEM education, while reaching out to hometown students, collegiate institutions and state legislators.

The First2 Student Success Alliance makes a long-term commitment to foster collaboration and document successful programs so similar practices can be used to help other rural states them develop their own STEM-capable workforce.

Finally, the First2 Alliance, which is part of the NSF INCLUDES program, will advance our knowledge of barriers to success and solutions that increase the success of aafirst-generation students in STEM.

“NSF INCLUDES was conceived as a sustained effort, a recognition that a problem as complex as the need to broaden participation in STEM requires a long-term, collaborative approach,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “After laying the groundwork through pilot projects, NSF INCLUDES is taking a significant step toward creating a true national network with these new awards.”

“Living in a rural area within the state, it is easy to see the huge influence this program can have, opening up many opportunities to West Virginia students and providing a path to success in the STEM fields that otherwise might be closed,” said O’Neil.

The co-investigators on the W.Va. Alliance include:

  • Sue Ann Heatherly, Green Bank Observatory, Principal Investigator, will coordinate communication between Alliance members and the National Science Foundation, and will be working with faculty from West Virginia State University, West Virginia University, Marshall University, and others to expand STEM internship opportunities for freshmen and sophomore STEM majors.
  • Erica Harvey, Fairmont State University, Principal Investigator, leading the Capacity Building Improvement team to build partnerships including industry/academic partnerships.
  • Gay Stewart, West Virginia University, Principal Investigator leading the Educational Research Program.
  • Sarah Riley, Director of the High Rocks Educational Corporation, Principal Investigator leading the College Readiness Improvement Team.
  • Joanna Burt-Kinderman, Pocahontas County Schools, and Dr. Kathryn Williamson, West Virginia University co-investigators leading the Undergraduate Student Agency Improvement Team.
  • Jan Taylor, Division of Science and Research, Higher Education Policy Commission, Principal Investigator, will lead the development of the First2 Alliance hub organization.
  • First Generation College Students attending West Virginia colleges and Universities who will participate in all improvement teams.
  • Caitlin Howley, ICF, will lead the External Evaluation

The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under a cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.