Auburn partners on project to promote STEM education through scholarships

Published: November 18, 2016
Updated: March 28, 2017
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A project designed to increase student retention and graduation rates of low income, academically talented students, while preparing them for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, fields, has recently been awarded a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The project, “Making to Advance Knowledge, Excellence, and Recognition in STEM,” or MAKERS, is a five-year, multi-institutional collaborative effort that will provide scholarships to up to 158 students majoring in the biological, physical, mathematical, geological and computer and information sciences; engineering and associated technology areas.

MAKERS is a $5 million consortium consisting of Alabama A&M University, Auburn University, Auburn University at Montgomery, Lawson State Community College, Southern Union State Community College, and Tuskegee University (lead institution) with evaluation support from Oakland University.

“The MAKERS institutions will continue the long tradition in the region of working collaboratively to prepare at-risk students for careers in the STEM disciplines,” said Overtoun Jenda, assistant provost for special projects and initiatives and professor of mathematics in the College of Sciences and Mathematics. “Investigators at each institution are committed to stretching the boundaries of conventional academic preparation that is prevalent at American colleges and universities by immersing students in ground-breaking curricular and co-curricular STEM-based activities, such as the ‘Learning by Making’ process. Expected outcomes include new best practices that will be added to the literature on the mentoring of students that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM so that institutions elsewhere can benefit.”

“Learning by Making” involves interdisciplinary scholar clusters that serve to identify and investigate problems affecting local communities and applying STEM knowledge to “make” a product that has the potential to solve the problems.

Jenda, who is the primary investigator for Auburn’s portion of the project, said there are three unique aspects of the project: immersion of scholars in the ‘Learning by Making’ process; strong cross-institutional social and professional networks; and the use of online platforms for support and collaboration. Co-primary investigators on the project are Auburn’s Asheber Abebe, professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and Alan Wilson, associate professor in the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.

Overall, the team will work to increase student retention and graduation rates; prepare students with the STEM academic foundation, professional skills and experiences needed to enter the STEM workforce or graduate school in STEM disciplines; and investigate the MAKERS model impact on recruitment, retention, success and graduation of students in the target population and majors. The grant was awarded as part of the NSF’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or S-STEM, Program, which addresses the need for a well-educated STEM workforce in the U.S. as a means of maintaining the competitiveness of the U.S. in the global economy. The S-STEM program also strives to encourage increased success of low-income, academically talented students with a demonstrated financial need who are pursuing associate, baccalaureate, or graduate degrees in STEM.

For more information on the MAKERS project, go to https://cws.auburn.edu/apspi/pm/makers.
For more information on NSF’s S-STEM program, go to https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5257&org=DUE&from=home.

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