Volume 97 Issue 9 News

JC presented STEM grant

by Lewis Boob

Juniata College received a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) grant, which totaled over one-million dollars, from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant was a part of the foundation’s NOYCE scholarships, created by Robert Noyce.

“We work with a firm out in Washington, DC. Their name is McAllister and Quinn. They thought that this particular NSF grant would be something that would fit our campus and our needs, so we began to pursue that with Kathy Jones, Jamie White, and Mike Keating. That’s how we first found out about it,” said James Troha, president at Juniata College. “We got it before spring break. I got the email on March 1, the project’s exact title is Energizing STEM Teaching Across Rural Schools, and the exact reward is one-million, nine-thousand, and seventy-four dollars.”

“It’s huge. I believe that it is one of the largest, if not the largest single grant that Juniata has ever received,” said Kathy Jones, associate professor of education.  “It’s being administered through the education department. I’m the principal investigator on it, and my two co-principal investigators are Dr. White in Physics and Dr. (Leslie) Leckvarcik, who’s in charge of Science in Motion.”

“The primary purpose (of the grant) is to offer scholarships for my students, in the junior and senior year, and that would be up to $15,000 a person per year,” said Jones. “They would have to agree to teach for two years of teaching science or mathematics in a rural area, for every year a scholarship. If they had it for two years, that would be four years of teaching. It allows us, also, after their freshman or sophomore year, they can take a course in the summer that would be eligible. It would be a tuition-free, STEM-focused course called Foundations of Education. This is an exploration, not a commitment, but just a chance to see if science or mathematics teaching might be something they are interested in doing.”

Juniata students in the science or mathematics departments who are interested in teaching those subjects will be most affected by scholarships from the grant. “The biggest impact will be on the students, who are awarded the grants, who are apart of the education department. It will really help them out financially. It’s going to provide additional money to their financial aid, so they graduate with less debt. They can go out to the teaching environment, and not worry about large loans that some students will have,” said Troha.

“It’s opens up so many doors for them that they might not have utilized before, and it is also a renewable grant as well,” said Jones.

“I’m a mathematics secondary education major, and I believe we need a lot more math majors overall. In rural schools, it would be great for them to have great math teachers. If we could get that (more STEM funding) into the rural schools and have them be passionate about that, I like that. If we could get that into the rural schools and have them be passionate about math, it could take you really far in life,” said sophomore Stephanie Ringer.

“I have a huge passion for teaching, teaching in specifically chemistry. This grant gave me an opportunity to teach in a rural setting,” said junior Catherine Wittemann. “I grew up in Lancaster county, where they have a lot of poor schools that don’t have a lot of science, STEM funding. I was fortunate enough to go to a school, where there was enough STEM funding. I also saw a lot of low funding ESS school districts, where they didn’t have a lot of funding, so they didn’t have as many opportunities for a lot of science fair projects starting with research or something like that. It would be cool to get a lot of students motivated about science and STEM subjects.”

“It’s a very positive thing. Rural schools can be at a disadvantage sometimes, being that they’re smaller, whether they don’t have as much funding, and/or people. I know there are schools around here that have problems. I think it’s a great opportunity to get more teachers into these kinds of schools. I think it’s a great thing, and I hope a lot of people hop on board with it,” said senior Ian O’Shea. “Financially speaking, it was a good opportunity. It is also a good opportunity to teach for a rural area. I went to a smaller school, and even if I don’t end up teaching in a rural area, I think it would be a good opportunity to teach in a rural area.”

The money from the grant can be used for a variety of projects on campus, to help benefit students who are eligible for the grant. “Another part of the grant we have is where the money is being used. To offer a summer internship for eligible students, to do research in the science labs, to do math research in the math department, to do education research with me, to being a summer science camp counselor for the science camp that we have on campus, and/or to be an intern at the field station,” Jones said. “In the Pennsylvania’s requirements for science, they have very specific certification requirements. You are certified in Physics, you are certified in Biology, we do a certification in Chemistry, we have a general sciences certification, and we are finishing up an environmental science certification. They are taking away that certification, but I still have two in the pipeline for that. We also have mathematics and earth and space science.”

This grant will still have an impact on students, even after they graduate from Juniata. “We would have this cohort of folks, who would finish up and leave Juniata. I would continue to track them for two years and stay with them,” said Jones. “Once a month, we’ll get together electronically and twice a year they will be back on campus to get together. That will be alumni weekend in June and then the family/homecoming in October, where we will talk about what’s going on in their schools.”

“There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but the biggest piece for me is that it’s a real nice example of how our faculty works collaboratively for the betterment of our students,” said President Troha.I think it’s a wonderful example and the National Science Foundation, through giving us this million-dollar grant, is affirming the work that our students and faculty are doing in the sciences.”

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