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Eckerd College establishes STEM scholarship program with Sloan Foundation grant

Published May 12, 2022
Categories: About Eckerd, Academics
High school student looks into microscope at Eckerd pre-college program

A high school student studies “symbiosis and slime” during a marine science pre-college camp at Eckerd in 2019. Photo: Michael Drummonds

It’s more than a scholarship.

Beginning in Fall 2023, Black, Latinx and Indigenous high school seniors interested in studying science, technology, engineering and math at Eckerd College will be eligible to join the first cohort of The Eckerd-STEM Scholars—a holistic scholarship, professional development and community-building program funded by a $249,723 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Over the course of four years, the five students selected will receive $10,000 annually, access to a summer bridge program, an E-STEM first-year mentor, automatic enrollment in the College’s Honors Program, funding for tutoring, a paid eight-week summer research experience on campus between the first and second years, alumni mentors, a Sophomore Summit focused on internships and student development, Eckerd College Leadership Development Institute training and a specialized scientific ethics class.

Professor of Marine Science and Geosciences Laura Wetzel, Ph.D., the principal investigator of the grant application, says the program is designed to build support and community around the students in order to help them reach their goals.

Work began in Summer 2021 when Wetzel convened a committee to hash out the details of the program using a $49,960 planning grant from the Sloan Foundation. Each member was tasked with not just generating ideas but committing to executing some part of the vision for student success.

“That’s how we got such a huge program for this amount of money,” Wetzel says with a laugh.

Associate Dean for General Education and Associate Professor of Classics Heather Vincent, Ph.D., suggested scholars be admitted to the Honors Program she oversees because it would place all five of them in the same Human Experience course during their first year, provide access to enhanced mentoring, and award scholarship support for study abroad experiences.

Following a jam-packed first year, E-STEM Scholars will be mentored by alumnae volunteers Dominique Lazarre ’06, a Fish and Wildlife Research Institute fisheries researcher, and Anjali Boyd ’19, a doctoral student at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Alumni mentors are in addition to their faculty and peer mentors, creating a community of support filled with people who understand Eckerd’s campus and careers in STEM.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jalisa Ferguson, Ph.D., and Associate Professor of Chemistry Greg Felton, Ph.D., volunteered to teach a new course—required for E-STEM Scholars but open to the entire campus—called Science for the Common Good, aimed at looking at the social implications of scientific research.

Eckerd chemistry professor Jalisa Ferguson next to student holding beaker

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jalisa Ferguson. Photo: Angelique Herring ’19

“Training scientists at a liberal arts institution must involve considerations of the bigger picture and learning how to ask ourselves questions (and attempt to find answers) beyond the science. Through their own lived experiences, many of our current and future Black, Indigenous and Latinx students are already aware of some of the larger negative impacts of science and technology in our society and may already have a desire to do something about it,” Ferguson explains.

“I want to help cultivate that passion and equip them with the knowledge and tools to continue [on] their STEM path, but with an awareness and appreciation for understanding ethical issues and disparate negative impacts on our world and the people, plants and animals that rely on it.”

The Sloan Foundation will fund the scholarship program’s first two cohorts, and the program is open to all STEM majors except biology, says Alma DeRojas, the College’s grant specialist for strategic initiatives. Future funding hinges on fundraising and the ability to show measurable improvements in recruiting underrepresented students for STEM majors, retaining them, and helping them matriculate in graduate STEM programs or begin STEM careers.

Grant committee members also include Professor of Physics Anne Cox, Ph.D.; Dean of Admission Jacob Browne; Assistant Professor of Mathematics Keith Copenhaver, Ph.D.; Professor of Computer Science Kelly Debure, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor of Mathematics Lindsey Fox, Ph.D.; Assistant Dean of Faculty Kat Robinson, Ph.D.; Associate Vice President for Advancement Justine Sanford; and Associate Professor of Marine Science Amy NS Siuda, Ph.D.

“It’s a big ambitious project … It is going to make a difference,” Wetzel says. “It makes the world a better place. We can’t wait to get started.”