PennWest California has been granted $745,379 for student STEM scholarships through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program.

The funding will be used to support the recruitment, enrollment, retention and graduation of 12 low-income, academically-talented (LIAT) students pursuing bachelor of science degrees in computer engineering technology, electrical engineering technology or mechatronics engineering technology.

“Engineering technologies represent high demand STEM fields that allow students to enter the workforce upon graduation,” said Dr. Brenda Fredette, dean of the PennWest College of Natural Sciences & Engineering Technology and co-principal investigator on the grant. “This NSF award is exciting because it provides financial and academic resources that will create opportunities for students that may otherwise not have been able to attend college.”

Each of the 12 students who receives a scholarship will be granted up to $10,000 per year for four years based on their unmet financial need. Students will also have access to comprehensive academic support services as part of PennWest California’s Aligning Careers and Campus Experiences for Student Success (ACCESS) project.

“As a first-generation college student who depended on the scholarships I received to be able to attend college, I am extremely grateful to be able to offer this opportunity to other promising young talent who may have otherwise not been able to reach their full potential,” said Dr. Jennifer Wilburn, professor in the PennWest Department of Applied Engineering, Technology, and Physics and a co-principal investigator for the grant.

ACCESS combines financial scholarship support from the NSF S-STEM grant with academic supports available through the Department of Education Strengthening Institutions award. The project also seeks to help students grow professionally through a network of pre-professional and career development activities connecting campus learning experiences to business and industry workplaces.

“The ACCESS Program has been a long time in the making and something I am extremely passionate about. As principal investigator on this project, I look forward to guiding its success and being able to build upon it to bring these supports and opportunities to an even greater number of students entering critical STEM fields,” said Dr. Brenton Wilburn, professor in the PennWest Department of Applied Engineering, Technology, and Physics.

The co-principal investigators seek to gain insight on how professional opportunities combined with advising and both peer and faculty mentoring can aid in LIAT student retention. They also will examine the impact of internships on student readiness for capstone projects and job placement.

Throughout the project, Fredette, Wilburn and Wilburn will identify any interventions that help students complete their STEM degree, as well as help them to be successful in their careers. The goal is that students will become employees who can truly contribute to their employers early in their careers because they have up-to-date working knowledge in the field.

PennWest California has received nearly $2 million in STEM-related funding from NSF in 2022, including a $1,228,857 grant to implement a learning community focused on professional development among science faculty.