UK awarded $1.9 million to improve recruitment, preparation and retention of science, tech, engineering and math students

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded the University of Kentucky a five-year, $1.9 million grant to improve retention of students in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics, through a collection of initiatives dubbed “STEMCats.”

The STEMCats project will feature five key components, each aimed at improving the recruitment, preparation and retention of STEM majors: FastTrack courses for Math, Biology, Chemistry and Physics to better prepare incoming students; a STEMCats living learning community; a freshman STEM research course; a team-based summer research experience and an improved introductory STEM curriculum.

Fewer than half of all students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a STEM field leave with a STEM degree, according to the university’s press release. Nationwide, 40 percent of students enroll in a STEM program when they enter college, and the rate drops to roughly 20 percent among historically under-represented ethnic groups.

Many first-year college students are not prepared for the rigors of college-level science and math, Professor Vincent Cassone, chair of the UK Department of Biology and STEMCats project director, said in the release. “They have no idea what to expect, and I think it comes as a shock to some of them just how much work is actually involved in passing an introductory-level STEM class,” Cassone said in the release. “By the time they realize it, they may already be in trouble. It’s not that they can’t do the work. They just are not mentally and psychologically prepared for the challenges they face at the university level. The STEMCats initiatives are designed to help students get ready to succeed.”

UK is partnering on these initiatives with Bluegrass Community and Technical College, which will allow these students “to work in UK research facilities, live in STEM-designated communities at UK and be part of a FastTrack student cohort designed to remove barriers of success while enhancing STEM opportunities and knowledge,” Tammy Liles, associate STEMCats project director, said in the release.

UK is one of 37 research institutions to receive an award, from among 170 institutions competing for a share of $60 million in total funding, according to the release. (Read more)

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