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Week of November 19, 2012

Federal grant funds U-M effort to attract STEM students

The number and diversity of U-M students graduating with degrees in science, engineering and mathematics will increase significantly through a cross-campus effort funded by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The five-year grant will establish the M-STEM Academies at U-M, which will expand current efforts to attract a more diverse group of undergraduates into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

The academies will increase the number of undergraduates with degrees in STEM fields by creating a support system for students with high ability and potential in science, but who might not otherwise be successful at a large, highly competitive research university.

The program will provide students with a pre-freshman-year summer program; academic year coaching; personal, professional and academic development workshops; incentive stipends; and undergraduate research opportunities.

“Essentially, it’s a high school to college transition program,” says Cinda-Sue Davis, co-principal investigator on the grant and director of U-M’s Women in Science and Engineering program. “We’d like to eventually expand it into the third and fourth years, but at the moment it’s conceived as a two-year program.”

M-Stem Academies will expand on a highly successful College of Engineering program, the M-STEM Academy, and the more recent M-Bio Academy, which covers the biological sciences in LSA and includes the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

The M-STEM Academies will include these existing efforts and will expand to the rest of the natural science and mathematics departments in LSA: astronomy, biophysics, chemistry, earth and environmental sciences, mathematics, physics and statistics.

“This cross-university effort is highly unusual for a large, decentralized institution such as Michigan and indicates the high level of shared support and commitment for this effort,” says Deborah Goldberg, principal investigator on the grant and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Co-faculty directors of M-STEM Academies are Goldberg and Joanna Millunchick, professor of materials science and engineering at the College of Engineering.

“When the College of Engineering established M-STEM Academy in 2008, it was with the hope that it would expand to include STEM disciplines other than engineering, so we are very happy to see this happening, thanks to the efforts of professors Goldberg, Millunchick and others,” says James Holloway, associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Engineering.

Once the program is operating at full capacity, about 140 freshmen and sophomores per year will participate. The goal is to graduate students who have high grade point averages and a full complement of co-curricular activities.

“In addition to increasing the number of STEM graduates, we want to make certain that they are positioned to do whatever they want to do with that degree, whether it’s going on to a graduate or professional school, creating a startup, joining a larger corporation or something else entirely,” Davis says. “Through this program, we hope to graduate students who will become leaders in their fields.”

M-STEM Academies is modeled on the nationally recognized Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The Maryland program is open to prospective undergraduate students of all backgrounds who plan to pursue doctoral study in the sciences or engineering.

“UMBC has been phenomenally successful over the last 25 years, but it’s quite a different institution than Michigan. It’s smaller and it’s not a leading research university,” Davis says. “So we’re interested to see if the Meyerhoff model can translate into a different academic setting with a slightly different objective.”

Funding from the College of Engineering, LSA, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Provost will establish a new joint office to support the M-STEM Academies. A search is under way for a director to manage day-to-day operations of M-STEM Academies.

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The Dianne Reeves Quartet with special guest Raul Midon, 8 p.m. Dec. 8, Hill Auditorium, presented by the University Musical Society.

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