Meredith Stafford, staff writer

Berry recently received a $750,000 grant for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) scholarships from the National Science Foundation, which will be used for LEGION, a program designed to aid STEM students with financial need. In addition to demonstrating financial need, students will need to be academically talented and planning to continue in a STEM field following graduation to be considered. Between six and eight students will be accepted each year.

According to Alice Suroviec, dean of the school of mathematical and natural sciences, the scholarship is designed to fill the gap between costs that are covered by the student’s family or financial aid and the full cost of tuition. Each student will receive an average of $6,500 per year, but the amount will vary based on each individual’s needs.

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“They are academically talented so we know they have an interest and a desire in studying in the STEM area, but there is a financial barrier of some sort for them to be able to come here,” Suroviec said. “So, this scholarship is to remove that barrier and allow them to come to Berry and really pursue their STEM dreams.”

While the application process is still being negotiated, students will apply for the scholarship through their normal application to Berry according to Suroviec. There will be a minimum high school GPA requirement and students with more rigorous classes will be favored. They must also be interested in either physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology or biochemistry. Candidates who pass through the initial screening will be interviewed more in depth later in the process. Suroviec said that this scholarship is not intended for students pursuing a degree in the medical field. 

“Really, the point of the scholarship is to build up more workers in the STEM field, because there is a large market for college graduates in STEM, and there’s just not enough of them,” Suroviec said. 

Suroviec is hopeful that this program will have on a great impact Berry’s science department, and is proud of the effort the faculty has put in to make LEGION a reality. 

“This will bring in students who are academically able to come to Berry, but there’s a financial barrier and by removing the financial barrier, we’re going to let the students who should be here come here,” Suroviec said.

Associate Professor of Physics, Chuck Lane, is the lead investigator for this program at Berry and says that the faculty began drafting a proposal for NSF’s S-STEM program in Jan. 2021 and were notified in Aug. that their program would be funded.

Lane believes that this program will help Berry retain students in STEM fields as well as encourage potential students. 

“At least once every couple years, maybe more than that, I’ll have students in my classes that are doing really well and then they tell me they’re leaving Berry and it turns out it’s because of money, because it costs too much,” Lane said. “So, the hope with this is that some of those students will instead be able to stay here for a full four years and graduate.”

“A lot of students in these situations tend to be first-generation college students,” Lane said. “There are studies that students who come in situations like this a lot of times have trouble especially at the beginning of college, maybe academically but a lot of times it’s more socially, feeling like they fit into the sciences, feeling like they belong. So, we’re doing a few things to try to help with that.”

There will be three cohorts of the program: fall 2022, fall 2023 and fall 2024. As freshmen, the LEGION scholars will come to Berry two weeks before the fall semester for a bridge program that will familiarize them with college-level work and encourage cohort bonding. There, the students will be introduced to their faculty mentor as well as an upper level student mentor who works in their field of study and a research mentor. 

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“Our hope is that we’ll get 21 students who could not attend Berry otherwise for financial reasons,” Lane said. “We’ll get that many students that are able to come here and earn a science degree in four years and then go off and be scientists, whether it’s working in a lab or going to graduate school or whatever else they might want to do.”

Chris Hall, associate professor of biology, said that LEGION will give students skills to acclimate to college life as well as a career in STEM. 

According to Hall, faculty, student mentors and individual third parties will be meeting with the students regularly to receive feedback on their experience. LEGION scholars cannot work for Berry, which Hall said was less pressure for them to balance academic work with outside jobs. The program will also involve the parents of students in ways such as creating a website for the students to showcase their research.

“It’s a way that the students can one, learn about social networking through the internet because that’s definitely something that careers benefit from, but it also allows the parents to stay in touch,” Hall said. 

Hall hopes that the program will allow them to see what approaches encourage students to stay in STEM disciplines and have a positive impact on the students’ experiences. 

“It’s like laboratory research,” Hall said. “You know, you’ve got to try it and see if it works. We can think it does; we have our hypothesis that this will help encourage students to stay in these STEM disciplines and go onto graduate programs or into academic positions, but until we try it, we’re not sure.”

Because of the small number of students involved, Hall believes it may be difficult to discern the success of LEGION, but said that at the minimum, it will benefit those students. 

“We’re really committed for the next few years, the four faculty involved, we’re committed to making this project happen,” Hall said.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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