While many students enter college without the necessary skills to study and learn effectively, they can cultivate positive study habits after they arrive. A new cross-unit collaboration will help move WV Forward by preparing rural, underrepresented Appalachian West Virginia University students for long-term computational careers in West Virginia’s evolving workforce environment.

The Center for Excellence in STEM Education and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences have received a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program. Funding 20 scholarships to support students majoring in Computational Physics and impacting instruction in core courses taken by the majority of science and engineering students, the program will not only develop students’ learning in physics and calculus, but it will help guide them to successfully learn and study on their own.

“Computational careers are the jobs of the future,” said associate professor in physics education research in the Department of Physics and AstronomyJohn Stewart, principal investigator. “Preparing our students to succeed in an ever-changing workforce that is becoming more heavily weighted toward STEM fields is critical to fulfilling WVU’s land-grant mission. We want to set up out next generation of students for success and show how higher education can serve as a pathway to economic transformation and future career paths in STEM.”

To help students successfully pursue computational careers and encourage them to stay in these STEM fields through college and into the workforce, the program will provide frequent and tailored advising, career planning assistance and professional development activities.

Beyond changes to core STEM classes at WVU to increase the success of all WVU students, the project will support research to understand how these changes can be refined to allow all WVU STEM majors to successfully complete their degrees.

This unique program will also help solve a critical state and national problem: rural students are less likely than others to major in STEM disciplines. By measuring the effects of the coursework, assignments and personal advisor engagement, the program will help determine their effectiveness in student retention along with positive changes in behavior and learning techniques. It could ultimately encourage the development of a national model to improve retention of rural STEM students across the country.

“As we move toward increasing the number of STEM graduates to help diversify and strengthen our workforce, it is so important to embolden West Virginia’s rural and first-generation students to consider careers in STEM,” said co-principal investigator and WVU CE-STEM director, Gay Stewart. “Through one-on-one engagement and support, we seek to encourage students to find an interest and passion in STEM disciplines while recognizing the vast opportunities available to them long-term. Indeed, we are proud to play a role in moving our state and our nation forward by following West Virginia Forward’s blueprint to provide the talent pool West Virginia needs.”

Eberly College of Arts and Sciences’ associate professor in physics education research, John Stewart, is the principal investigator of the NSF S-STEM program, while co-principal investigators include the Department of Physics and Astronomy faculty DJ PisanoPaul Miller and Seth DeVore, and WVU CE-STEM director, Gay Stewart.

From John Stewart for WVU Today