A team of higher education professionals recently received federal funding for an initiative to support rural, first-generation students interested in completing a degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field. 

First2Network was awarded $1,645,998 from National Science Foundation (NSF) INCLUDES, a grant program designed to enhance U.S. leadership in STEM discoveries and focused on a commitment to diversity, inclusion and broadening participation in these fields.

The project has three objectives: improving student preparation for college and the subsequent transition; replacing ingrained institutional practices that stifle the development of STEM self-efficacy; and developing a FIRST Ambassadors program that guides undergraduate students to explore the disconnect between home life and STEM education, including reaching out to their hometown students, collegiate institutions and state legislators.   

West Virginia Science & Research (WVSR), a division of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, serves as ‘the backbone’ for this project, providing management, financial and communications support.

“We lose promising first-generation students during their freshman or sophomore years due to lack of mentorship,” said Dr. Jan Taylor, director of WVSR and one of five principal investigators on this project. “Working with all stakeholders, including students, to create a network of support will increase the number of first-generation college students persisting and graduating in STEM fields.” 

Co-investigators on this project include: Taylor; Sue Ann Heatherly of Green Bank Observatory; Dr. Erica Harvey of Fairmont State University; Dr. Gay Stewart of West Virginia University; Sarah Riley of the High Rocks Educational Corporation; Joanna Burt-Kinderman of WV STEM Council; Dr. Kathryn Williamson of West Virginia University; Caitlin Howley, Innovation Corps Program; and first-generation college students attending colleges or universities in West Virginia.