The key activity of the proposed project is a Needs Assessment for each participating institution. This will be conducted by project team members, supported by paid undergraduate researchers and paid consultants from the SEISMIC collaboration. Overall, the aim of the Needs Assessment is to make each participating institution well-prepared to award S-STEM scholarships that will support domestic low-income students to graduate in STEM disciplines and move on to rewarding careers. To reach this goal, we will address a number of questions for each institution including:
A. How will we define scholarship eligibility requirements based on institutional data?
B. What methods will be used to award scholarships and determine scholarship amounts?
C. What activities/structures are already in place to support low-income students?
D. How can we structure (co-)curricular activities to promote success for S-STEM students?
E. How can we honor institutional differences while still enacting a coordinated, multi-institutional scholarship program?
For question A, our institutional researcher team members will conduct parallel data analyses across our institutions to generate summary statistics about our domestic low-income students on each campus, such as the distribution across STEM disciplines, which STEM disciplines have lower rates of graduation for low-income students, and what points in low-income students’ STEM pathways are most important for financial aid. We will also leverage student survey data collected by institutions to better understand the student experience in STEM classrooms and on campus. Question B will require project team members to engage in discussions about determining low-income status. Currently, our institutions use different metrics to label students as “low-income,” such as looking at Pell Grant status versus family income (Delisle, 2017; Rosinger & Ford, 2019). We expect the project team members, particularly those from the financial aid and scholarships offices, to lead discussions around the different approaches to identifying low-income students and, as a collaboration, we will decide on comparable definitions across institutions for scholarship eligibility requirements that work best for our program and its goals. Also, because of the expertise from our financial aid and scholarships team members, we will be able to compare different approaches to awarding last-dollar scholarships based on costs of attendance and calculations of unmet need and evaluate what will work best for this collaboration.
For question C, we will look to staff in student services and counselors in student affairs to better understand the activities and structures currently in place to support low-income students. These discussions will also revolve around identifying structures in need of improvement and/or additional resources. For question D, we will use surveys and interviews with units and student organizations that support low-income students to understand more about student experiences with curricular and co-curricular programming. Our SEISMIC consultants will support the project team in developing survey and interview protocols, recruiting participants, and conducting interviews. Our undergraduate researchers will assist with note taking during interviews and will engage in qualitative analysis with the survey and interview data.
Question E encourages us to openly communicate our findings and processes across institutions and note similarities and differences. Intentional reflection on the choices we make, such as how we are defining scholarship eligibility and the nature and size of awards that we make, will be key to keeping our scholarship program cohesive. Providing scholarships through the SEISMIC collaboration also opens up opportunities for inter-institutional cohorts of scholarship students participating in the same co-curricular activity. More details about this are described in Section 2 Goal 3. The project team will create a report summarizing the takeaways from the Needs Assessment as a useful resource for our future Track 3 grant proposal.