May 9, 2014
The five-year grant will fund students at Texas Tech and three regional community colleges.
Mathematicians at Texas Tech University recently received a $645,030 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a scholarship program for low-income students interested in pursuing a degree in mathematics at Texas Tech and three regional community colleges.
The five-year grant will fund the South Plains Mathematics Fellows (SPMF) program, which will provide scholarships of up to $10,000 per year to 52 financially disadvantaged students. Texas Tech has partnered with Midland College, Odessa College and Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, N.M.
Kent Pearce, lead investigator on the grant and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, said this program is an offshoot of another Texas Tech mathematics scholarship program called the South Plains Mathematics Scholars (SPMS) program. Beginning in 2007 and ending last September, SPMS provided scholarships to 40 students with financial need, more than 70 percent of whom graduated, or are on track to graduate, with a bachelor’s degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) discipline.
“Partnering with other colleges was designed to separate and distinguish our SPMF proposal from other proposals landing at NSF,” Pearce said. “We wanted to illustrate that this type of partnering with regional colleges could be reproduced at research institutions across the country. Part of the approach represented that this type of effort to coordinate the transition of STEM students from regional colleges to research universities could increase the overall number of students in STEM fields, both by infusing new students in the pipeline and by enhancing the retention of new and existing STEM students.”
Brock Williams and Jerry Dwyer are mathematics professors and co-PI’s on the project. Dwyer, also director of the STEM Center for Outreach, Research & Education, said the main idea is to provide scholarships to talented students who have financial need.
“Basically, if a talented student has financial need, they may attend a community college when otherwise they might actually go to a university,” he said. “This program gives opportunities to people who might not attend a research university because of cost. We specifically look to support mathematics students with financial need.”
The program will begin with eight freshmen at Texas Tech, four from Midland, and two each from Odessa and Mesalands, Dwyer said.
Program students who attend either of the colleges or Texas Tech also will receive mentorship to ensure success in their education, Dwyer said. After the community college students graduate, they will transition to Texas Tech to finish their bachelor’s degrees.
“A key part of it is we will mentor the students, give them support and nurture them through the system,” he said. “At the community colleges, they’ll be mentored there, and the mentors will get them ready to come here. When they come here, we will continue to mentor them for their junior and senior years. A key feature of SPMF is the mentoring component.”
President M. Duane Nellis said it is important universities such as Texas Tech enhance the student pipeline toward STEM disciplines to help address our innovation deficit.
“Student enrollment in STEM programs is a national challenge, but one that is necessary not only for these programs, but also for the future of our country,” he said.
Forrest Kaatz at Mesalands Community College is senior personnel on the grant. He said Mesalands has participated in Texas Tech’s summer Math Camp for the last several years.
“This represents a closer relationship between the institutions,” he said. “Mesalands Community College has a STEM grant which supports math and science tutoring and lead faculty will assist in mentoring students. MCC has significant minority enrollment and many students qualify as those in need, so this grant will assist the nurturing of mathematical talent. We are excited about this new opportunity to assist scholars in STEM disciplines in the region.”
Krista Cohlmia, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Mathematics at Odessa College, is a co-PI on the grant. She said SPMF is the first scholarship at Odessa College purely focused on mathematics majors.
“This project allows our students to obtain a great educational foundation at OC and will allow our students to know early in their collegiate education that there is a well-supported path for them beyond Odessa College,” she said. “The support these students receive at the community college, both financial and otherwise, will greatly help these students when they transition to the university.”
Margaret Wade, dean of Mathematics and Science at Midland College, also is a co-PI on the grant. She said collaborating with Texas Tech is of great importance to students and faculty.
“The ties we have developed help to promote the study of mathematics and to support the students we send forward from Midland College for more advanced degrees,” Wade said. “This grant will enable us to support students financially and educationally as they pursue their goals.”
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense"
With an annual budget of about $6.9 billion (FY 2010), they are the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.
View a 2 minute video overview of NSF's mission and focus.