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September 04, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Maryville College receives $645,000 grant for STEM education

The allocation expands the capacity of Scots Science Scholars and builds on the supportive and rigorous STEM education already provided at Maryville College.

Ten years ago, Maryville College (MC) professors Dr. Angelia Gibson and Dr. Maria Siopsis, pictured above, applied for and received a $380,000 grant that helped them launch the Scots Science Scholars (S3) program on the Maryville College campus.

A decade later, the two MC faculty members — Gibson a Professor of Chemistry, Siopsis a Professor of Mathematics — have received another grant, this one in the amount of $645,000 in federally allocated funding administered through the Funding to Improve Post-Secondary Education Community Fund (FIPSE), a program of the U.S. Department of Education.

The allocation expands the capacity of Scots Science Scholars and builds on the supportive and rigorous STEM education already provided at Maryville College by “increasing access to hands-on experiences and industry exposure, with a focus on addressing emerging technologies and scientific innovation in natural sciences, computational science, and engineering,” according to Gibson.

“Every time we are awarded a federal grant, we take that as a vote of confidence that the programming we are offering STEM students at Maryville College is not only valuable to the students but to our local, regional, and national communities as well,” Siopsis added. “Our students get the training they need to secure fulfilling and lucrative job opportunities while employers have access to a pool of highly skilled college graduates ready to join the workforce.”

Over the course of their STEM collaboration, the two faculty members have secured more than $2 million in federal funding to support STEM programs at Maryville College, which this summer has dispersed undergraduates across the country to take part in internships, research opportunities, and work-study programs.

Dr. Jay Clark, MC Director of Environmental and Sustainability Initiatives, assisted in the submission of the duo’s FIPSE grant application, and Rep. Tim Burchett, who represents Tennessee’s Second Congressional District, sponsored it in Congress. Clark, who previously served as an Adjunct Instructor of Biology in the MC Division of Natural Sciences, sees their work, and the role of S3, as crucial to the expanding role Maryville College plays as a steward of and an advocate for the East Tennessee region.

“The Scots Science Scholars program has become the premier scholarship program for STEM students at MC,” Clark said. “The creation and success of the program over the last decade are attributed to Dr. Gibson and Dr. Siopsis. They are tremendously passionate about training our future scientists, engineers, doctors, and computer experts. We are proud of the S3 program and the students who have graduated from it. And we appreciate Rep. Burchett’s support for S3, and his commitment to workforce training and development.”

The grant will fund additional components of the S3 program including:

  • The purchase and integration of cutting-edge equipment that will be used to provide training in essential biological/chemical and computational techniques that are fundamental to the STEM industries;
  • Taking Scots Science Scholars on field trips to visit local STEM employers in East Tennessee;
  • Providing faculty-supervised internships for STEM students that will allow them to gain training in basic research, address local community issues of ecological importance, and learn essential technology;
  • Allowing students from low-income backgrounds to gain valuable research experiences or internships or attend conferences by providing stipends for research experiences and internships;
  • Providing support for projects in the STEM fields led by other MC faculty members, such as Dr. Dave Unger, Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. Jennifer Brigati, Professor of Biology and Chair of the Division of Natural Sciences; and
  • Supporting faculty and student attendance at STEM and STEM education conferences.

“There are abundant opportunities for students with degrees in STEM fields, and particularly for students with the communication and problem-solving skills that are fostered through a liberal arts education, but STEM degrees are difficult,” Gibson said. “Extracurricular supports like technology exposure, tutoring, career exploration or practical research are important for helping students persist and flourish.

“Our funding has helped us provide those opportunities so that STEM students at Maryville College get the high-quality education and student support that all MC students enjoy, along with the exposure to research and use of technology that are usually reserved for the most elite students at research institutions, and a dedicated support team that helps students navigate challenges of their STEM curricula.”

The S3 program was launched in 2013 with a grant from the National Science Foundation and has served almost 150 students over the past decade. To mark the 10-year anniversary, Gibson and Siopsis released data over that time period that demonstrates that S3 has improved graduation rates and STEM retention rates for low-income students. In addition, funding from the Arconic Foundation helped to build out a STEM Success Center in MC’s Sutton Science Center that, under the leadership of STEM Success Manager Brett Longwith, serves as a campus hub for all things STEM. Longwith not only connects students to support resources on campus, he also coordinates a tutoring and academic collaboration center, a seminar series, mentoring lunches, and even social events so that Maryville College’s STEM programs feel all-inclusive.

“As we get ready to welcome our 11th cohort of Scots Science Scholars, we are really excited about the new experiences we are able to offer through the FIPSE grant,” Siopsis said. “I am really thankful for Brett and Dr. Gibson. Together, we make a dedicated and creative team that is constantly thinking about how the program needs to evolve to continue to serve new students each year. The most recent grant gives us the opportunity to offer novel programming that will contribute to the evolution and development of the S3 program for the next 10 years and beyond.”

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