S-STEM Planning Grant (NSF 2221056) Needs Assessment Report

February 2024


The University of Michigan, the University of California Santa Barbara, and the University of California Irvine conducted a Needs Assessment in 2023 to assess barriers and potential (co-)curricular activities for low-income transfer students at each institution. This Needs Assessment aims to prepare each institution 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 investigated five questions at each of our institutions. Steps taken to address these questions include parallel data analyses, collaboration with financial aid and scholarship offices, interviews, surveys, and more.

1. How will we define scholarship eligibility requirements based on institutional data?

A student will be eligible to receive scholarships if they meet all of the following criteria:

  1. US citizen or permanent resident
  2. Pursuing a B.A. or B.S. degree in biology or neuroscience
  3. Demonstrates academic potential in these fields
  4. Low-income, as defined by each institution
  5. Has unmet need

Our Institutional Researchers worked with our Offices of Financial Aid to gather data on students who have met these criteria in previous years, to give us a sense of numbers of qualifying students, average unmet need, average GPAs, and retention and graduation rates in biology and neuroscience.

2. What methods will be used to award scholarships and determine scholarship amounts?

Aligned with NSF policy, each institution’s Office of Financial Aid will determine scholarship amounts and award scholarships based on their definitions of low-income status and students’ unmet financial need. Unmet need is calculated as Cost of Attendance (COA) less the Student Aid Index and any grants and scholarships. The COA for UCSB is $36,381, based on living in an undergraduate apartment and being a California resident.* The COA for UM is $37,612, based on an upper-level undergraduate qualifying as an in-state student.^

Based on our analysis of a potential Scholar pool at each university, we expect each institution will award scholarships around $13,000 per student, per year, until the student graduates. NSF policy states the maximum scholarship per student is $15,000 per year, and students cannot receive scholarships for longer than five years.

* UCSB. (n.d.). Cost of attendance. Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. Retrieved February 6, 2024, from https://www.finaid.ucsb.edu/cost-of-attendance
^ U-M. (n.d.). Estimating costs. Financial Aid. Retrieved February 6, 2024, from https://finaid.umich.edu/getting-started/estimating-costs

3. What activities/structures are already in place to support low-income students?

Both UM and UCSB already have several structures in place designed to support low-income students. Some examples include:

  • Basic needs / food pantry programs (e.g., Maize & Blue Pantry)
  • STEM tutoring
  • Writing centers
  • Major-specific advising

Additionally, both UCSB and UM participate in minority-serving programs like MESA and LSAMP. These programs are dedicated to increasing the number of STEM degrees awarded to populations historically underrepresented in STEM fields. Both institutions also participate in TRIO programs, such as McNair and Educational Opportunities, that are designed to support and encourage students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

4. How can we structure (co-)curricular activities to promote success for S-STEM students?

To learn more about successfully implementing an S-STEM program that promotes success for its students, we interviewed 10 PIs about their own S-STEM programs to identify factors that make these programs more or less successful (see Past S-STEM Experiences Report & Key Findings From Data Sources). From these interviews, we identified three key insights:

  1. Recruitment of students must be both a priority and a collaborative effort, working with those within the high schools, community colleges, and institutions
  2. Identify your specific cohorts’ needs and budget money accordingly – How big of a commitment? What should students get out of it? Do they need more money themselves?
  3. Forming a well-functioning S-STEM program requires the cooperation and collaboration of many different groups of people, including admissions offices, advisors, financial aid, administrative staff, faculty, and students. It is important to not underestimate the amount of work required.

Speaking with S-STEM program PIs also allowed us to learn about a variety of S-STEM activities. Activities consisted of required academic courses, support for these courses, professional development, and cohort-building opportunities.

We also spoke with three students who either planned on transferring or had already transferred to UM, UCSB, or UCI to learn more about their experiences and how we can best support students (see Community College & Transfer Student Interviews & Key Findings From Data Sources). From those interviews, we identified three key insights:

  1. Transfer students need awareness of and access to resources and experiences that support them before and after the application process
  2. Students appreciate having a “home base” on campus, whether in the form of a Transfer Student Center, a club based around a common identity, or a different resource
  3. Interactions with four-year institutions motivate students to apply and transfer to those institutions

In addition to these insights, we also gathered examples of helpful resources for students before and after transferring. Some resources students told us were helpful were email lists, live chats on websites, peer tutoring, and transfer student centers.

Finally, we invited faculty and staff associated with resource centers from UCSB, UM, UCI, and other higher education institutions to complete our survey on creating supportive structures and opportunities for low-income transfer students (see Programs to Invite for Survey). The survey had seven questions total, asking participants to share/recommend activities and topics they felt a program geared at helping low-income transfer students should have. We had 16 total responses and were able to identify multiple key findings (see SEISMIC Scholars S-STEM Insights Report & Key Findings From Data Sources):

  1. Programs should have many opportunities for students to connect with faculty and peers
  2. Programs should include professional development and build skills such as resume creation and interviewing
  3. Programs should ensure that workshops and other events are accessible for commuting and non-traditional students

In addition to this, many participants stressed that transfer students must be explicitly made aware of available resources. Respondents also noted that it is important to address and respond to both hidden curriculum and imposter syndrome and that frequent communication is necessary for success. This increases access to opportunities, including undergraduate research.

5. How can we honor institutional differences while still enacting a coordinated, multi-institutional scholarship program?

While there are differences between the two pools of potential scholars, the COAs and average unmet need are similar enough to allow for the same scholarship awards across institutions. These scholarships will be awarded yearly until scholars graduate. NSF requires that scholarship awards equate to 60% of our budget, which is what primarily influenced our scholarship eligibility and amount.

However, while unmet needs and COAs were similar, there were multiple institutional differences that we had to grapple with, many resulting from budget policy differences. For example, while UCSB can pay for faculty to be mentors to scholars, UM is not easily able to do the same. After discussion at both institutions, we decided to pay faculty at UCSB and not UM, as we want to honor faculty members’ time as best as we can. We feel that even with this difference, students at each institution will still receive a quality experience

Another institutional difference is the relationships we have with local community colleges: GRCC and UM have had unique collaborative experiences that are different than the experiences that SBCC and UCSB have had together. Additionally, GRCC is much farther from UM than SBCC is from UCSB, further differentiating the dynamic between the two pairs. We consciously made the decision to work with these institutions because of our pre-existing relationships, however, rather than simply opting for the closest schools.

A final difference between our two institutions is the capacity and interworkings of our transfer student centers. We must work with these centers’ unique systems while trying to broaden the reach of everyone’s collective efforts.

As both UCSB and U-M are SEISMIC institutions, we plan on having multiple opportunities for the cohorts to engage with each other. Our Summer Bridge, for example, will include online components that will draw on materials previously developed by our PIs, including how to conduct literature reviews, qualitative versus quantitative research methods, and developing figures using data visualization tools like R. This training will be offered to U-M and UCSB students at the same time. Additionally, we have funds for students to travel to be in-person for our Research Symposium, allowing for inter-institutional networking. Multiple of the monthly workshops and seminars planned for the academic year will be online, allowing both cohorts to attend together. Finally, we are conscious of creating similar cohort sizes across UM and UCSB to create a sense of cohesion within the program.

The SEISMIC Scholars Program was a paid, remote summer research internship designed to connect undergraduate students with SEISMIC members who are working to enhance equity and inclusion in introductory STEM courses. Because the Scholars Program also had a multi-institutional cohort of undergraduate students, we analyzed weekly reflections and post-survey data from the 2021 and 2022 cohorts to better understand how to support students in these types of programs (see SEISMIC Scholars Program Report). With the program supporting 13 scholars in 2021 and 10 scholars in 2022, we were able to identify three key insights:

  1. SEISMIC participants found confidence through collaboration to reach out for help in areas that they may not be as skilled at as well as growing skills together, as a cohort
  2. Mentors played a significant role in the growth and development of skills and confidence of participants in the SEISMIC Scholars program
  3. Working with faculty through SEISMIC empowered the participants of the SEISMIC Scholars program

We plan to use these key insights and other experiences highlighted in the report to ensure that our program is supportive of students and their endeavors, including communicating and conducting research, developing their identity, and working with mentors.


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