STEM CONNECT: Scholarship targets low-income, underrepresented students

Jim Lewis speaks at the Aug. 30 STEM CONNECT grant announcement. Photo Credit: Craig Chandler, University Communication

More than 120 low-income Nebraska students will benefit from a new five-year, $3.56 million grant from the National Science Foundation while they pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is partnering with Southeast Community College and Western Nebraska Community College to build out the state’s STEM workforce through a new grant, STEM Career Opportunities in Nebraska: Networks, Experiential-learning and Computation Thinking. Applications are now being accepted from students who will be first- and second-year students in the fall of 2020, and STEM CONNECT hopes to offer up to 62 scholarships between the three institutions.

This funding from NSF’s S-STEM initiative will provide scholarships and academic support for low-income students, specifically targeting underrepresented minorities, women, and rural and first-generation students. Students who begin at a community college in the academic-transfer program will take courses to build their strengths in math and computer science, while the students who begin at Nebraska will major in math, computer science, computer engineering, or software engineering.

“We will be working with academically gifted, low-income students, and help them to successfully enter the workforce or pursue graduate education,” said Jim Lewis, Aaron Douglas Professor of mathematics and STEM CONNECT’s principal investigator. “We know that finances are not the only hindrance to student success. This grant will also allow us to build out academic communities, establish faculty mentors and adapt curricula here and at our partner institutions that ensure success, based on existing research.”

At Nebraska, Lewis leads a team that includes Amy Goodburn, senior associate vice chancellor and dean of undergraduate education; Brittany Duncan, assistant professor in computer science and engineering; Petronela Radu, Olson Professor in mathematics; and Wendy Smith, research associate professor in the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Computer Education.

Financial need and scholarship amounts will be determined by the FAFSA, and scholarships can be as much as $8,000 per year. They are renewable for four years at Nebraska, or two years at SCC or WNCC, and then funds will follow students for two more years if they transfer to Nebraska.

The grant also funds a research study, led by Smith and Rebecca Carr, associate director of institutional research at SCC. The study examines which factors affect retention, academic success, and graduation in STEM fields among low-income students, and how those factors differ among students who transfer from a two-year to a four-year institution.

The program boasts a large interdisciplinary team of researchers, advisers, and administrators from all three institutions, including SCC and WNCC principal investigators Sandeep Holay and William Spurgeon, as well as SCC’s Dean of Arts and Sciences Carolee Ritter and WNCC physics instructor Scott Schaub.

“As we put this program together, we discovered we have a lot of knowledge on these issues in our midst, and we’re going to draw expertise from many domains to ensure the success of these students,” Lewis said.

If you know a talented high school senior who has been successful in mathematics or computer science courses, encourage them to visit and complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA, to learn whether they are eligible for financial support.

If you would like STEM CONNECT to send a personal invitation to a student to apply to the scholarship program, send their name and contact information to

– Deann Gayman of University Communication and Lindsay Augustyn