In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers appointed by President Obama, identified the need for more college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Faculty at West Virginia University are addressing that need by making it a priority to see students through their education and onto rewarding STEM careers.

Bolstering that investment in student retention, the National Science Foundation has recently awarded a $300,000 grant to the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Department of Mathematics, which will partner with the Center for Excellence in STEM Education at WVU. The funds will support the “Stem-R: Modeling STEM Retention and Departure across Physics, Mathematics, and Engineering” project, which will study student retention in the STEM disciplines with the goal of identifying the point where students begin the process of departing the sciences.

“Retaining more students in STEM is important for economic growth and prosperity, particularly in a state like West Virginia, where such education can significantly change standards of living, with STEM major graduates making significantly more than their highest-earning parent,” Gay Stewart, professor of physics and Director of WVUCE-STEM, said. “WVUCE-STEM’s early efforts�are focused on improving the number and preparation of STEM teachers to serve in WV high schools, and to improve our own undergraduate education pathways to help more students achieve success. STEM-R is vital to improving those pathways.”

John Stewart, associate professor of physics and astronomy, is the principal investigator of the STEM-R project. Eddie Fuller, professor and chair of the math department, and Jessica Deshler, associate professor of mathematics, are the project’s co-principal investigators.

Stewart said the funding will support researchers and allow an unprecedented analysis of the factors influencing STEM retention in the early college years.

“STEM jobs are the jobs of the next century and the projected shortage of STEM professionals poses a significant risk to our economy,” Stewart said. “This is particularly important for West Virginia as the state transitions from an economy rooted in the mineral extraction industries to the high-tech economy that is the key to the state’s future.”

The WVU Center for Excellence in STEM Education was created in May 2015 to help WVU play an active role in improving STEM education at WVU and in West Virginia and to provide a model for other institutions nationally.



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