West Virginia University (WVU), Marshall University (MU) and West Virginia State University (WVSU) will be part of a nine-university, multi-million-dollar initiative to attract, retain and graduate underrepresented students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

A five-year, $2.5 million National Science Foundation grant establishes the Kentucky-West Virginia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) in the STEM disciplines, officials announced at a news conference on April 14 at the University of Kentucky.

Coordinated by the University of Kentucky Office for Institutional Diversity, the alliance of nine institutions of higher learning includes MU, WVU, WVSU, Kentucky, University of Louisville, Western Kentucky University, Centre College, Kentucky State University and Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

“Forming alliances is crucial in today’s world, and it is an honor for West Virginia University to be part of this innovative and collaborative partnership with various institutions in West Virginia and Kentucky,” said WVU President Gordon Gee. “LSAMP is a project that mirrors our university’s commitment to diversity and research. We stand firmly in line with LSAMP’s goals to increase minority enrollment in the STEM fields, in addition to improving retention and graduation rates for underrepresented students.”

With an undergraduate focus, the grant will fund programs and initiatives at the alliance members’ institutions to increase diversity in the STEM fields. The alliance has the potential of significantly impacting the lives of up to 5,000 underrepresented undergraduate students in the two Appalachian states. Programs will be developed at the member institutions to attract greater numbers of diverse students to the STEM fields, increase retention and graduate up to 500 students over the next five years.

“West Virginia University realizes the importance of fostering diversity and an inclusive culture,” said David Miller, associate professor of mathematics at WVU and a co-principal investigator for the project. “This serves as one of our five strategic goals by 2020. LSAMP and the University’s Strategic Plan complement one another perfectly.

“As we look to the future, these underrepresented youth will be relied on more and more as the demographic breakdown of America changes. We need them to excel in the STEM fields so we can continue to fill STEM positions in both industry and academia, and to enhance lives.”

Under the first phase of the project, WVU offered three-week college algebra and calculus courses for transitioning high school students, in addition to sending students on study abroad opportunities.

LSAMP has allowed Miller to develop ‘inquiry-based learning classes,’ in which he teaches calculus classes for a special cohort of students.

“They are more intimate, small and involve group learning, and working out problems together on the board,” he said. “It has been a success and I hope to encourage other schools to take this approach.”

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto is the principal investigator, while Kentucky engineering associate professor Johné Parker is also a co-PI.

“The LSAMP initiative provides rich opportunities that we hope will excite more underrepresented students to explore, delve into, and thrive in academic and research programs in STEM fields,” Capilouto said. “Their increased participation will stimulate and improve the alliance institutions’ outcomes in disciplines critical to the future of our state, our region and the nation.”

Projected goals are:

  • To increase minority student enrollment in the STEM fields alliance-wide by 15 percent by 2016 with a 10 percent to 20 percent increase yearly thereafter.
  • To increase the 4-5 year graduation rate for minority STEM majors alliance-wide by 50 percent or above and maintaining or increasing this rate thereafter.

Reaching the LSAMP goals by 2018 will translate into 260 or more STEM baccalaureate graduates among the nine universities each year.

While each campus will be evaluating and improving its own programs, they will be collaborating, sharing information and ideas, as an alliance.

The first KY-WV LSAMP alliance-wide conference will be held at the University of Kentucky in the 2014-15 academic year.

The KY-WV LSAMP universities plan to reach their goals with strategic recruiting and intentional focus on senior year attrition. National studies show that underrepresented minority students enroll as STEM majors at the same rate as their counterparts, but graduate at significantly lower rates. The project abstract asserts that the key to retention will be the provision of timely and effective individual support as needed, based on real-time tracking and both faculty- and peer-mentoring.

LSAMP supports sustained and comprehensive efforts that facilitate achievement of the long-term goal of increasing the number of students who earn doctorates in STEM fields, particularly those from populations underrepresented in STEM fields. The program defines under-represented groups as African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans.