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Oklahoma State University

Federal grant helps transfer students earn OSU STEM degrees, enter biology careers

Tue, June 30, 2015

Undergraduate students transferring to Oklahoma State University will receive financial and academic help made possible by a recently announced nearly $620,000, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to improve recruitment, retention and graduation rates of transfer students coming to OSU to study life sciences.

The grant is designed to help students transferring to OSU from two-year colleges. Transfer and other nontraditional students are an expanding segment of the student population at large universities

“It’s a growing constituency for both OSU and universities across the U.S.,” said Dr. Kristen Baum, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and one of the OSU project leads for the NSF grant. “Data suggest these students experience more challenges than students who enter OSU as freshmen. Studies tell us first semester transfer students often experience a somewhat significant drop in their GPA following transfer. So we’re trying to help these students overcome these barriers to success.”

The grant provides scholarships of up to $10,000 a year to academically talented and financially disadvantaged students transferring to OSU to earn degrees in biological science, physiology or zoology. In addition to scholarships made possible by the NSF grant, the project also provides academic and professional development support.

The NSF awarded the grant through its Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program designed to increase the number of students pursuing graduate degrees and careers in STEM areas. The S-STEM grant is the second awarded to OSU. In 2009, the university received $600,000 to launch a program to help transfer students succeed in STEM studies at OSU. The new grant enhances that initial effort by providing students with additional support and expanding the recruitment base.

Support includes an orientation seminar in the fall that introduces students to OSU academic resources. The seminar also helps S-STEM scholars meet each other and peers to connect them with a community on campus.

Professional development assistance includes written and oral communication skills and STEM career awareness and job search resources. Much of the support comes from interaction with current and former S-STEM scholars serving as mentors. And because the program encourages students to continue their education in graduate school, S-STEM scholars are introduced to research opportunities, which often develops an interest among undergraduates in pursuing advanced degrees.

Baum said gauging the success of this and the preceding S-STEM grant will come from analyzing OSU graduation and retention rates as well as qualitative assessment from interviewing students about their individual experiences.

S-STEM grant team members include Dr. Jennifer Grindstaff, associate professor, Department of Integrative Biology; Kelly Kavalier, academic counselor, Learning & Student Success Opportunity Center; Rob Lofton, assistant director, Office of Scholarships & Financial Aid; Kathleen Wilson, academic counselor, biological sciences, Department of Integrative Biology; and Dr. Lucy Bailey, associate professor, social foundations and qualitative inquiry, College of Education. 

Learn more about the OSU S-STEM scholarship for transfer students and the Broadening Opportunities for Biologists by Bridging the Gap for Transfer Students program at http://sstem.okstate.edu/.