University of Kentucky gets $1.9 million grant to help graduate more math and science students

lblackford@herald-leader.comJune 3, 2014 

Aerial - University of Kentucky Construction

Aerial photo of the University of Kentucky campus taken on Feb. 12, 2013. Photo by Faron Collins

FARON COLLINS

The University of Kentucky has received a $1.9 million grant to graduate more students in the STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The grant, made by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will fund a series of initiatives called STEMCats aimed at better preparing students for the rigors of college-level science and math.

UK will partner with the Bluegrass Community and Technical College to help students in those disciplines succeed before and after they transfer to UK. The initiatives will also help incoming students with "fast track" week-long classes in biology and chemistry, more summer classes, and a year-long multidisciplinary research course for freshman. In addition, STEMCats will have its own "living-learning community," where freshman involved in those majors can live together on campus.

STEM graduates are in great demand, but fewer than half of all students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a STEM field leave with a STEM degree. Nationwide, STEM matriculation rates hover around 40 percent, but the rate is only half that, roughly 20 percent, among historically underrepresented ethnic groups.

Part of the challenge for educators is that many first-year students arrive on college campuses without enough preparation, said Professor Vincent Cassone, chairman of the UK Department of Biology and STEMCats project director.

"They have no idea what to expect, and I think it comes as a shock to some of them just how much work is actually involved in passing an introductory-level STEM class," Cassone said. "By the time they realize it, they may already be in trouble. It's not that they can't do the work. They just are not mentally and psychologically prepared for the challenges they face at the university level. The STEMCats initiatives are designed to help students get ready to succeed."

The partnership will allow some BCTC students to work in UK research facilities, live in STEM-themed dorms and get extra help in those classes.

"BCTC is excited to be a partner in this very innovative STEMCats program," said Tammy Liles, BCTC's associate dean for natural science and associate STEMCats project director.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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