Ball State University’s College of Sciences and Humanities has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation that is expected to play a major role in increasing retention and graduation rates among academically talented low-income students in Chemistry and Biology. 

The National Sciences Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (NSF-S-STEM) Grant awarded to the college—totaling $750,000 over five years—will be used to provide scholarships to 16 high-achieving undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need, recruited in two cohorts of eight and supported for up to four years. 

The grant project, titled “Pathways to STEM Degrees through Integrated Academic Support, Career Enhancement, and Personal Development (I-ASCEND),” will also enable the University to build programming based on high-impact practices (HIPs) targeting students’ academic preparation and career enhancement, such as: a first-year seminar; undergraduate research; faculty/peer mentoring; living-learning communities; internships/co-op experiences; and interactive industry seminars hosted by top Indiana employers. Workshops and activities to promote mental health, self-awareness, and social integration will also be incorporated in the programming to address Ball State students’ needs. 

“At Ball State, in line with the imperatives outlined in our strategic plan, we strive to provide a premier undergraduate experience through high-impact practices,” said Dr. Maureen McCarthy, dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities. “We are grateful to have the support of the National Science Foundation to advance our institutional goals of transforming the economic landscape of talented students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds that otherwise might not have considered attending our University.” 

Regional recruitment efforts for the scholarships will target schools in the Indianapolis metropolitan area that enroll a highly diverse, low-income student population. Local recruitment will focus on students from Muncie Central High School, the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities, and Burris Laboratory School. 

Dr. Sundeep Rayat, associate professor of Chemistry at Ball State and principal investigator for the grant project, said low-income students face significant obstacles in securing funding for their education, and are often burdened by large student loans and/or extended work hours. 

As a result, Dr. Rayat said, this student population tends to have insufficient time for coursework, often resulting in poor performance and even complete departure from their STEM education. 

“The scholarships can improve persistence, retention, and graduation rates in STEM—yet scholarships alone do not address high attrition rates,” Dr. Rayat said. “The high-impact practices that we will be able to deploy, thanks to the support of the National Science Foundation, have been proven to increase persistence and degree completion in higher education. This is because engagement in HIPs encourages critical thinking and promotes deep and meaningful interactions with a diverse community of peers, faculty, advisors, administrative staff, and student affairs professionals, which serve as the foundation for a sense of belonging and result in higher academic gains.” 

The students selected for the scholarship will work out of Ball State’s brand new, state-of-the-art Foundational Sciences Building. Opened in June 2021, this $87.5 million, five-story structure features 72 laboratories, many immersive learning classrooms and flexible teaching spaces, an aquatics suite, advanced microscopy and imaging equipment, and strategically designed collaborative spaces for students to share inquiry beyond the classroom. 

Joining Dr. Rayat as co-principal investigators for the grant project are Dr. Gen Mager, assistant teaching professor of Biology; Dr. Katharine Herbert, senior academic advisor; and Dr. Jill Coleman, associate dean of the College of Sciences and Humanities.