Thanks to a $5 million National Science Foundation grant, Hofstra University and Nassau Community College are creating a program that aims to improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. With the grant, the two higher-education institutions will provide scholarships, mentoring and research opportunities to high-achieving students in underserved communities.
The program will focus on students from Freeport, Hempstead, Roosevelt and Uniondale. These students will begin their studies at NCC and finish their bachelor’s degree at Hofstra. In addition to scholarships, the program includes a range of academic support services and enrichment opportunities through faculty from both institutions.
“This collaboration between the Hofstra and Nassau Community faculty makes the move between institutions much easier for students,” Jessica Santangelo, associate professor of biology at Hofstra and co-principal investigator for the NSF grant, said in a statement. “Additionally, they will have access to career counseling, research and networking opportunities, and have mentors among their more senior classmates.”
The grant covers STEM majors in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, physics, psychology, geology, environment, and sustainability.
The grant aims to make higher education more accessible to the 90 participating students. As they work toward a four-year degree, they will receive two-year scholarships to attend NCC, and then up to $10,000 per year for their studies at Hofstra.
“Thanks to the work of Principal Investigators Jessica Santangelo and Jacqueline Lee and their colleagues, this program will create pathways for talented students from our neighboring towns to study in-demand STEM disciplines, and will support the retention and graduation of high-achieving students with demonstrated financial need,” Hofstra University President Susan Poser said in a statement.
These students will also have the opportunity to build their skills the summer before they start college, earning a stipend to work on research in the NCC labs. This will allow them to focus on their studies without worrying about summer employment.
Santangelo and Jacqueline Lee, a biology professor at NCC and co-principal investigator on the grant, are leading a team of 13 faculty from both institutions who teach biology, chemistry, engineering, and education to administer the program.
“I am looking forward to working closely with Dr. Santangelo and her Hofstra colleagues in kicking off this NSF-funded program,” Lee said in a statement. “Both of our institutions will realize a new level of commitment in promoting STEM curriculum to produce future leaders in these fields as part of the joint grant mission.”
The grant is also funding the continuation and expansion of the Integrated Achievement & Mentoring Program (iAM) for Student Success, a program Santangelo launched at Hofstra in 2018 to help promising first-year STEM students. Students are offered tutoring, advisement, and career services throughout their time at Hofstra to improve their grades and chances of success.
“These students, if they excelled in high school, often feel lost if they find themselves struggling in college,” Santangelo said in a statement. “This grant allows us to bring existing support services to them. They don’t need to ask for it. We can say, ‘We see you are trying. We know you have potential. Let us help you get back on track.’”
In May, the first Hofstra students to participate in iAM graduated, most with multiple job and graduate school offers and GPAs markedly higher than their early semesters. The new NSF grant will allow Hofstra to almost triple the number of students in the program.
Chima Odume ‘22, a biomedical engineering major, was among the first iAM students. “Before iAM, I was performing poorly in my classes,” he said. “When I joined the iAM program through Dr. Santangelo, I was taught proper time management skills, how to study for STEM courses, and how to communicate with professors. These techniques significantly changed the way I handled my college courses.” Odume graduated in May with two job offers in the biomedical engineering field.
Daniel DeButts ‘23, a biology major on a pre-med track, shared a similar experience. “In high school, I never struggled to get good grades, but online classes, COVID restrictions, and homesickness contributed to a challenging first semester at Hofstra,” he said in a sttement. “I received an invitation to iAM for the start of my second semester. There was a virtual meet and greet with professors and classmates, who were having the same difficulties as me. We would have weekly meetings and seminars, reviewing metacognition study habits and time management skills.”
DeButts said that by the first semester of his sophomore year he was earning As in multiple classes and had raised his GPA from a 2.95 to a 3.75.
In addition to expanding the iAM program, the NSF grant is underwriting workshops for STEM faculty from Hofstra and NCC to create pedagogical collaborations between the schools that ensure a seamless educational experience for students as they move between the institutions.