Scholarships and other financial aid have the potential to transform career outcomes for low-income students, supporting them to graduate with STEM degrees and providing pathways for social mobility (Anderson & Zaber, 2021; Camp et al., 2021; Engle & Tinto, 2008). We believe this positive impact can be enhanced by a coordinated, multi-institutional approach that leverages the expertise of educators, social scientists, offices of financial aid, and student support services. Our leadership of the Sloan Equity and Inclusion in STEM Introductory Courses (SEISMIC) collaboration positions us well to lead a multi-institutional STEM scholarship program for domestic low-income students strengthened by evidence-based curricular and co-curricular activities for supporting student success.
The overall objective of this proposal is to prepare the SEISMIC collaboration to apply for a future Inter-Institutional Consortia S-STEM grant. This objective will be achieved by:
1. Establishing relationships and agreements across institutions to facilitate awarding scholarships
2. Assessing the barriers for low-income students on our campuses and potential curricular and co-curricular activities to support these students
3. Analyzing existing pilot data of a SEISMIC-developed co-curricular program to understand its potential impact on low-income students
The proposed project is significant because it will provide the foundation needed for a large-scale, high-impact, multi-institutional STEM scholarship program for domestic low-income students that also facilitates future parallel studies on the factors that support their success.
2024 Proposal Co-Lead
2024 Proposal Co-Lead
Our project activities are organized by the three goals listed under our overall objective statement above and summarized in the table below:
Table 1. Project Logic Model
SEISMIC Project Manager Nita Tarchinski will use the Project Logic Model (Table 1) to assess this project’s progress toward its expected outcome. Ultimately, this project will be successful if a multi-institutional team of collaborators is in the process of writing a Track 3 S-STEM grant proposal for the February 2024 deadline at the time this project is completed in late summer 2023.
Goal 1: Establishing Relationships and Agreements
Our first activity will be to set up one-on-one conversations with potential collaborators for a future Inter-Institutional Consortia (Track 3) S-STEM proposal, drawing from the list of university units and individuals in Table 2, to establish our project team. As part of SEISMIC collaboration activities, each SEISMIC institution is already hosting a series of events for their campus in 2022 and SEISMIC Project Manager Nita Tarchinski will be attending. We will take advantage of this in-person opportunity to continue building relationships with new faculty and staff that can potentially become project team members. Once the project team is established, they will participate in an initial planning meeting to discuss structures involved with awarding scholarships at each institution, common challenges faced by domestic low-income students pursuing S-STEM eligible degrees, and areas where more information is needed about the participating institutions. This meeting will serve as the first step towards developing the Needs Assessment (discussed in detail below). They will also determine the different responsibilities of the team members, how often they will meet, communication channels they will use, and what the project team will accomplish in the next year to prepare for a future Track 3 S-STEM proposal.
Table 2. Offices to Contact
Goal 2: Assessing Barriers and Potential (Co-)Curricular Activities
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.
Goal 3: Analyzing Existing Pilot Data
In 2021 the SEISMIC collaboration piloted a “SEISMIC Scholars” program to provide paid summer research experiences to undergraduate students who previously had difficulty accessing research experiences. Our success with this multi-institutional scholars program provides important motivation for the proposed project. While the SEISMIC Scholars were not limited to low-income participants, the financial aspect was important for many of the students. This program highlighted the value of co-curricular, multi-institutional cohort programs, and the importance of financial support for making participation possible for more students. The SEISMIC Scholars program directors and evaluation team collected qualitative data each week from participants in the form of reflection prompts related to what they were learning, as well as ran focus group interviews in fall 2021. We plan to collect similar data in summer 2022. We will analyze the reflection data from 2021 and 2022, supported by paid undergraduate researchers, and draw on themes that emerged from the 2021 focus group data analysis to better understand how different aspects of the Scholars program support students. This will inform the project team about how to offer and incorporate a productive research experience for future S-STEM students.
Completing this project through the SEISMIC collaboration provides an opportunity to generate productive conversations across our institutions about using S-STEM grants to support equity for low-income students. Our decisions on defining scholarship eligibility requirements and methods for awarding scholarships and scholarship amount determinations will be valuable for future S-STEM proposals for individuals in the SEISMIC collaboration, both as part of our Inter-Institutional Consortia proposal and for single-institution submissions. Our approach to conducting institutional Needs Assessments and collaborating across institutional units, disciplines, and roles, shared through presentations at national conferences, can also serve as a model for peer institutions outside of the SEISMIC collaboration to evaluate their own structures for supporting low-income students in STEM. Finally, our analysis of the SEISMIC Scholars program will lead to improvements for this program, impacting the success of future cohorts of students.