(Posted July 31, 2019)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. – Juniata College has been awarded a nearly $1 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to promote family support and provide four-year scholarships for 18 undergraduate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students studying biology, environmental science, chemistry, physics, geology, and/or computer science.

The project, titled, “Leveraging Familial Support Systems to Increase Retention of Low Income, Academically Talented Undergraduate STEM Students,” is under the direction of Jill Keeney, Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology, Jay Hosler, David K. Goodman ’74 Professor of Biology and chair of the biology department, and Kathryn Westcott, professor of psychology.

“We hear a lot about ‘helicopter parents,’ but that might not be the case for those with financial needs,” Keeney said. “Oftentimes, parents are unfamiliar with the higher education system, particularly when it comes to STEM fields.”

A unique facet of the project is the fact that it flips the conventional wisdom within higher education which discourages “helicopter” parenting by encouraging parent involvement within this cohort of students.

With a focus on supporting retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need, grant monies will be used to establish the JC-SOURCE (Juniata College STEM-Oriented Undergraduate Research, Careers, and Experiences) program. Through JC-SOURCE, parents will be encouraged to visit campus to see what their students are learning and doing, to meet with faculty members, learn what the student is being prepared to do post graduation, and to generally be engaged in the process.

 “We are going to focus on working with students within the curriculum and on having the students work on communication with their families back home to keep them involved,” said Keeney. “For students who come to college, sometimes, when everything is new it can be isolating and they end up dropping out without that family support. We want to see this program put into place to keep them more connected with their families.”

Through the JC-SOURCE program, five objectives will be met:

  • Development of an enrollment program to inform prospective students’ families about STEM careers.
  • Provision of scholarships to 18 low-income, academically-talented, first-year STEM students.
  • Ensure that 90% of JC-SOURCE scholarship students persist to graduation.
  • Increase the percentage of Juniata STEM students continuing in a STEM career field post-graduation.
  • Assess the impact of student communication with familial support systems on retention in STEM.

“We will be working with admissions and Jason Moran (vice president of enrollment) to make a conscious effort to educate families and students on the breadth and depth of STEM careers,” Keeney said.

Juniata College’s program will be singular in that it encourages family involvement as a resource to better support students. JC-SOURCE programming will coordinate student recruitment, course development, family outreach and engagement, and community building to support scholarship students. In helping students to maintain strong family ties, they can draw on that resource for success in their academic goals.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.