Underrepresented doctoral students in STEM receive grant

By Elyssa Kaufman

Select University graduate students will have the opportunity to earn a $40,000 fellowship to continue research in their STEM field of study through a grant from The Sloan Foundation.

The foundation recently selected the University as one of three institutions to create a University Center for Exemplary Mentoring and receive grant funding for minority doctoral students.

The Sloan Foundation is giving a total of $3 million in grant money to the three chosen universities, which will be available in the fall of 2015 and will extend into 2018. The University will receive $1 million to be spread across three years.

Assata Zerai, associate dean of the Graduate College, said 12 departments in Engineering and six departments — labeled as the physical and mathematical sciences — in LAS will be part of the grant.

The grant was needed to help further advance the goal of broadening participation in engineering, physical and mathematical science careers, said Sarah Lubienski, interim dean for the Graduate College.

“Illinois was chosen for its world-class graduate programs, it’s proven commitment to supporting underrepresented minority students in STEM, its bold plans to expand that support to include additional mentoring and fellowships and its comprehensive assessment of doctoral students’ experiences and outcomes,” she said.

The basic mission of the foundation is to support basic research and education in the area of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and economics, said Elizabeth S. Boylan, Ph.D. program director for Sloan Foundation,

“We support individual fellowships that are awarded to extremely promising junior faculty from institutions all over the country” Boylan said.

Grant funds are accessible through two avenues; general scholarships that go to the students directly for their own personal development or funds the University can request for support. The foundation also requires the institute participates in a matching program.

“They have a lot of latitude on what they can spend it on to advance how well and how quickly they get through their graduate program,” Boylan said. “We were happy to see how committed the University was to the program and the goals of the program.”

The Graduate College will recruit 50 underrepresented minority students and will fund assistantships, tuition and the opportunity for a fellowship, through the grant, Lubienski said. Twenty-five of these students will become “Sloan Scholars” and will receive a $40,000 fellowship funded by the new grant.

“One thing I am very proud of with this grant is that the whole million dollars will go straight to students.” Zerai said. “This kind of funding is going to put us in a position where we can produce results, and we can increase the numbers of underrepresented students.”

Zerai also said that the grant will be funding mentoring programs such as discussing conference presentations or other curriculum building activities in addition to a career start program.

“One of the things that is happening on campus right now are these conversations on diversity,” Zerai said. “It is gratifying to actually see results.”

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