About the WCU Nanoscience in Health & Technology S-STEM Program

Planning for Student Success. The WCU Nanoscience in Health and Technology S-STEM Scholarship program will recruit 18 (two cohorts of nine students) Pell Eligible students from the southeastern Pennsylvania area. These scholars will engage in a series of evidence-based academic, professional, and personal engagement and development activities. A Nanoscience in Health and Technology theme will be used to connect these experiences across the students’ college career, by emphasizing the multidisciplinary nature of science (academic), the importance of acquiring technical proficiency (professional), and the development of a STEM identity (personal). All scholars must express the intent to major in a STEM field and with documented prior high achievement in high school STEM courses. One of the primary goals of this project is to have a retention rate of at least 90% after the first years, and a 100% 4-year graduate rate for those who continue in the program after the 2nd year.

Meeting a National and Regional Need. According to the recent National Science Board report, Revisiting the STEM Workforce, in order to maintain our country’s competitiveness in technology and innovation, it is imperative that we strengthen pathways to STEM careers and retain STEM majors. Since 1990, STEM employment in the US has grown 79%. This trend is projected to continue for the state of Pennsylvania, where we estimate that there will be 590,000 new and replacement STEM job openings in the next decade. However, as our need for STEM college graduates has increased, so has the required family or student contribution to the cost of college attendance. This in turn leads to an increase in student/family debt and a decrease in STEM retention. At WCU, the majority of our undergraduates are from Bucks (10%), Chester (28%), Delaware (19%), Montgomery (14%), and Philadelphia (11%) counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania. This is a diverse region that includes rural, suburban, and urban landscapes in close proximity to Philadelphia. This area also has a rich nanoscience industry, where many of these companies are industry partners in our program.  Scholars will have the opportunity for paid summer internships at these companies during this program.

Implementing an Integrated Solution. The STEM Workforce Challenge provides more insight into issues beyond financial hardship that may prevent talented students from persisting in STEM majors. Our scholars will have access to a range of academic, professional, and personal engagement/development activities aimed at increasing their STEM self-efficacy, i.e. the confidence in their ability to meet STEM goals and challenges. These activities are modelled after a variety of programs that have been shown to motivate students to persist in STEM majors.

Nanoscience is a multidisciplinary field that touches on a wide range of applied subjects from semiconductor electronics to energy storage to biomaterials for medical applications. Its advancements can have a profound impact on the environment, economy, and public health.  Because nanoscience is a comprehensive area that incorporates all WCU S-STEM disciplines and would require scholars to consider the social impact of STEM innovation, it is the perfect theme for tying the WCU S-STEM engagement and development activities together. Moreover, WCU has a strong, multidisciplinary faculty team in our newly established WCU Center for Nanomaterials, who will act as Research Mentors for the scholars.

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