NSF Grant to Provide $600K for Science Scholarships

Submitted by SUNY Oswego

OSWEGO — The National Science Foundation has awarded SUNY Oswego nearly $600,000 over five years to provide scholarships to recruit and retain talented students who otherwise could not afford to pursue degrees in science and technology fields.

The year-old SUNY Oswego Possibility Scholars program will receive crucial support from the new grant. Recipients of Possibility Scholarships — the first four are finishing their freshman year — are promising science, technology and math students from the Oswego and Syracuse city school districts who receive all-expenses scholarships, currently funded entirely through leading donors to the college.

The quest for the $599,705 NSF grant began in February 2010 as a team led by President Deborah F. Stanley, Interim Provost Lorrie Clemo, Vice President for Development Kerry Dorsey and Mark Baum, a 1981 graduate of Oswego who chairs the development committee of the Oswego College Foundation board of directors, sought additional support for the Possibility Scholars program.

The new grant will provide $4,000 each year to offset college costs for the four current and the upcoming new Possibility Scholars, as well as for other promising students interested in science and technology — in all, 14 freshman and 14 sophomore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors a year.

“The first two years are the most crucial to sending a student on his or her way to a successful college career,” said Shashi Kanbur, a Faculty Fellow, associate professor of physics and principal investigator on the grant. “The idea is to remove any need for the students to have jobs, so they can concentrate completely on their degree subjects.”

The grant will encourage success by providing funds for a pre-college math camp and enabling the college to support on-campus summer research opportunities during college years for scholarship winners, he said.

Focus on solutions

Kanbur said the grant, titled “A Local-Global Engagement Model for STEM Workforce Development,” provides important support for SUNY Oswego’s strategic vision for engaging with the world in pragmatic, solutions-oriented ways.

“Many of the leading global problems require STEM-based solutions,” Kanbur said. “We need to tap all possible pools of talent to achieve those solutions, so we need to interest students from all sorts of backgrounds in STEM in order to make progress.”

Unlike the Possibility Scholars program, there are no geographic limitations on candidates for the remaining NSF-funded scholarships, though students’ families must meet thresholds for socioeconomic need. The grant will help encourage — but not fund — the scholarship winners to transcend international boundaries, working on cutting-edge research problems with collaborators at SUNY Oswego Global Laboratory partners in the Congo, India and elsewhere.

The college continues to look for other funding sources for Global Laboratory experiences, said Kanbur, who pointed to recent grants through the NSF and Banco Santander for summer research at Global Laboratory partners in Taiwan and Brazil, respectively.

Science and technology scholarship winners will have opportunities for summer research and study on campus through the college’s Summer Scholars program, made possible by donors to SUNY Oswego and the Oswego College Foundation. Those funds now can support more student projects with faculty mentors in science, technology and math, Kanbur said.

All the winners of NSF-supported scholarships will attend a pre-college math camp during Oswego’s final summer session. Research conducted by Mehran Nojan, the college’s director of institutional research, for this and other grant applications “showed that math is very important for success in the STEM disciplines,” Kanbur said. “We want to give our students every possible chance of success, so we’ll give them a refresher course in college-level mathematics before they come here.”

The National Science Foundation grant for science and technology students will start this fall, for each recipient’s first two years at SUNY Oswego. Kanbur said the college continues to seek support for the students’ junior and senior years.