The West Virginia University Potomac State College and Center for Excellence in STEM Education have been awarded $749,996 from the National Science Foundation to build a stronger pipeline of rural, low-income biology students at WVU.

The Pathways to Academic Student Success for biology majors (PASS) project aims to recruit and retain West Virginia students into PSC’s two-year biology program, as well as help project participants transfer to Morgantown campus’ four-year biology program, if desired.

Principal investigator and PSC associate professor of STEM Sheri Chisholm explained that thanks to the NSF funding and recruitment efforts by PSC’s Enrollment Services, up to 70 scholarships will be awarded to eligible high school students to join the PASS project over a six-year period. Each scholarship will total approximately $6,400 per year.

“Our hope is that these scholarships, coupled with this program’s tailored instruction and advising support, will incentivize talented high school students from rural communities who may not have considered attending college to reconsider and enroll in our biology program,” Chisholm said. 

To help participating students transition to college life and coursework, they will take a special biology-focused freshman orientation class and will be assigned a biology faculty member who will serve as their adviser and mentor. Students will also attend seminars and speaking engagements, explore career options, engage in research, attend tutoring sessions and participate in coordinated services with other departments. Assistance will also be offered if they would like to transfer to any four-year biology bachelor’s program or need help completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid Form.

In addition to focusing on student success, the PASS project will also zero in on new evidence-based recruitment, retention and transfer-student research. An advisory board of WVU STEM leaders and faculty will review PASS project data and strategize ways to help rural, low-income students successfully complete two- and four-year biology programs and pursue careers in STEM disciplines.

Director of WVU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education Gay Stewart expressed her excitement to serve as a member on the advisory board. 

“I’m excited to dig into this research and help identify ways to improve student success among our STEM majors,” Stewart said. “The lessons learned from the PASS project will help inform us on what attracts students to STEM careers, how we can better prepare them to stay in their STEM-related field of study through curriculum, student success services and personalized support, as well as how to help transfer students succeed in their programs,” Stewart said.

Stewart added that the data collected and examined could also extend beyond WVU, laying the foundation for transforming student success in STEM at a range of higher education institutions.

From West Virginia University Potomac State College