The National Science Foundation has awarded $650,000 to The University of Virginia’s College at Wise to support 25 high-achieving, low-income students in the College’s Department of Natural Sciences.

The third time was the charm for UVa-Wise Professor Josephine Rodriguez. Her persistence and hard work landed the largest NSF funding package UVa-Wise has received.

“It has been a long time coming,” she said of the successful application. “I really believe in our talented students. We know if we can get students working, for example, with Professor Floyd Beckford or Professor Bruce Cahoon, they go on to graduate school and do well. The NSF funding gives us a chance to prove it.”

Landing the NSF funding was not an easy task. The NSF received 500 new applications and funded 75, which puts UVa-Wise in the top 15 percent.

“The NSF funding will support our mission to make higher education accessible to students, will boost the number of STEM scholars, and will prepare our graduates for graduate study,” Chancellor Donna P. Henry said. “I congratulate Professor Josephine Rodriguez and her colleagues for their dedication to student success.”

The NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program throughout its five years will fund 25 scholarships for students who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, and environmental sciences. She explained that the strong need for a well-educated STEM workforce guides the aims of the project to recruit and support two cohorts of S-STEM Scholars. The program includes a set of seminar courses focused on first year and transfer student success, chemistry, and writing in the natural sciences. The project aims to increase participation of first-generation students, which comprise half of the students at UVa-Wise.

The program will support a dozen freshmen and 13 transfer students. The eligible freshmen will receive funding of up to $5,000 a year. The transfer students will receive two and a half years of funding at the same level. The first cohort of half the students will receive scholarships in Fall 2019 and the second half of the 25 students will follow in 2020.

“Early in their second semester, the freshmen will be trained very early on that writing is important,” she said. “Part of being a scientist is having the ability to write well. We will also work to improve our chemistry retention for the freshmen. Giving low income students just scholarships is not enough, so we will be testing other intervention programs.”

This project will incorporate best practices for increasing retention and graduation rates, and preparing students for STEM graduate programs or careers. She explained the project will develop, implement, and evaluate the impact of three seminar courses, including a General Chemistry Recitation Seminar to evaluate if participating students have higher scores on national exams and retention rates in chemistry courses compared to a control group. The Seminar in Writing in the Natural Sciences will be evaluated to determine if students have improved scientific writing skills and increased preparation for the writing demands of a future scientist. The Research Experience Seminar in Environmental Genomics or Environmental Chemistry will evaluate if research with faculty mentors and training in research-grade instrumentation results in further pursuit of independent research and continuation into STEM graduate studies and careers.

She credits her colleagues in the Natural Sciences Department for their assistance on the funding application.

“It’s a group effort,” she said.

Professor Margie Tucker, chair of the Department of Natural Sciences, said the funding will make a difference for students. She commended Rodriguez for landing the competitive funding.

“She worked hard to pull this together,” Tucker said. “She did a great job. This is an incredible accomplishment.”