The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded $5 million to encourage the growth and success of engineering and computer science education in Idaho.
Boise State University (BSU) researchers are planning to form a higher education consortium around southern Idaho with the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) and the College of Western Idaho (CWI) to help support the retention and graduation of low-income, high achieving students who have financial need. Specifically, the award will target students who are Pell-grant eligible, in addition to students in parts of Idaho who are traditionally underserved by higher education, such as students in rural areas, and those from the Hispanic populations around the state. According to a Boise State University press release, this grant serves as one of the largest scholarships in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) awarded in Idaho.
Don Plumlee, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Engineering at BSU and project principal investigator, said, “In most cases, these students would be required to work while going to school to cover their costs and living expenses. This limits their ability to commit to a full four-year program in engineering or computer science. We hope this creates a pathway to an engineering or computer science degree for a larger number of Idaho students. As part of the proposal to the NSF, we were required to calculate the average unmet need for Pell-grant-eligible students at each institution as a baseline for projecting the number of affected students and the overall project budget.”
BSU is currently working with CSI and CWI to complete subawards at each school. The project, which is already ramping up, will include components of education and support along the pathway, research development professional identity and overall performance evaluation. The goal is to roll out these components by spring 2023 with a partial cohort of students while actively recruiting for fall 2023. Currently, it is estimated that at least 140 students will be positively impacted by this award across the various institutions.
“We plan to similarly recruit new cohorts for the next three to four years and then support these students through their four-year path to a degree depending on available funding,” Plumlee said. “We are also preparing to hire a community and events coordinator to coordinate communication and curriculum between Boise State’s College of Engineering and both CSI and CWI. This new position is partially funded through the new NSF S-STEM award.”
Plumlee also said, “It is critical for the economic growth of Idaho and the region that we can continue to increase the number of students who see engineering and computer science as a career pathway that will provide a tremendous benefit over their lifetime. Part of this is addressing the cost barrier for low-income students and allowing them to focus on a challenging major without requiring a part-time job. Secondly, we need to help them understand the long-term value of a profession in engineering or computer science. Lastly, we need to be aware that students come from many different backgrounds, and we must find ways to support all of them along the path to graduation. This award addresses each of these challenges.”