Kean University received three recent grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand equity and opportunities for students, faculty and future teachers in the STEM fields.

The awards, including one that will provide scholarships for Kean students studying to become teachers of biology, chemistry, earth science or mathematics, total more than $4.6 million.

The first project, a collaboration across disciplines in The Dorothy and George Hennings College of Science, Mathematics and Technology (CSMT), is a $3 million, five-year award to institutionalize best practices in improving recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in STEM fields.

The Improving Undergraduate STEM Education – Hispanic-Serving Institution (IUSE-HSI) Fostering Communities of Practice Through Research and Peer Mentoring program will enhance undergraduate research experiences, increase peer mentoring and supplementary instruction, and build a sense of community among students and faculty. Expanding on an earlier award received by Kean, it will support 15 faculty and 90 students a year in faculty-led undergraduate research teams.

“We are looking to build upon proven practices, many already developed and tested at Kean as part of the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions, that help to grow engagement by Hispanic students and other underrepresented groups in STEM,” said Kean Associate Professor David Joiner, Ph.D., acting associate dean of the School of Integrative Science and Technology.

“We want students to get involved, build a community where they can share opportunities and learn from each other, and have support networks for them to succeed,” he said.

Working with Joiner, the principal investigator, are co-principal investigators Patricia Morreale, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of Computer Science and Technology; Associate Professor Feng Qi, Ph.D., of the Department of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences; Assistant Professor Kim Spaccatorella, Ph.D., in the Department of Biology; and Derrick Swinton, Ph.D., associate dean for research at CSMT.

The second grant, totaling nearly $1.2 million, will help meet the growing need for STEM teachers with diverse backgrounds in high-need high schools. The Culturally Responsive Education of STEM Teachers grant is through the NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program.

A total 28 Kean math and science education students, over five years, will receive scholarships, mentoring and training in culturally responsive pedagogical practices to prepare them for jobs in high-need districts.

The scholarships will go to Kean students entering junior and senior year of their bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, earth science or mathematics education. The first round of applicants will be students who are Kean sophomores in February 2024.

The project will also have lasting impact within Kean and the greater STEM-educator community by creating and sustaining an online resource for the professional learning community, through which educators can share lesson plans, professional-development resources and more.

The principal investigator is Laura Lorentzen, Ph.D., chair of the Biology Department. Co-principal investigators are Louis Beaugris, Ph.D., chair of the Mathematics Department; and from the College of Education, Associate Professor Gail Verdi, Ph.D., and Lecturer Patricia McDermitt.

The third grant, for $471,223, is an NSF Building Research Capacity of New Faculty in Biology grant. The three-year competitive grant, the first of its type received at Kean, was awarded to Kean Assistant Professor Brenna Levine, Ph.D.

Levine’s project, Effects of Urbanization on the Evolutionary Dynamics of Invasive Species Range Expansion, will use the invasive spotted lanternfly as a model to understand how cities affect the spread and evolution of invasive species.

“The results of this study will be of great interest in the rapidly growing field of urban evolution, and they will also have application to management of the spotted lanternfly and other invasive species,” said Levine.

The grant is designed to enhance the research capacity of new faculty at universities that are not R1 institutions. It is also geared towards new faculty at Minority Serving Institutions to help diversify the STEM fields.

Source: Kean University