UTEP to Use $2.4M Grant to Engage, Retain STEM Underclassmen

Last Updated on May 29, 2014 at 1:38 pm

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute announced today, May 29, that The University of Texas at El Paso was awarded a $2.4 million grant to establish a new Freshman Research Sequence to enhance the retention of underclassmen interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Stephen B. Aley, Ph.D., associate vice president for research and the grant’s principal investigator, said UTEP will use the funds to create the Program to Educate and Retain Students In STEM Tracks (PERSIST) that will start in the fall with two research modules of 20-25 students. Initial teams will focus on chemistry and biology. Approximately 350 underclassmen will be involved in the program by the end of the grant’s term.

Aley said the goal is to keep students engaged in their STEM majors, and to encourage them to pursue graduate degrees in those fields. Aley and his team of science faculty will share the details of the program during New Student Orientation sessions this summer. Organizers will accept applications and fill the slots on a first-come, first-served basis.

He said the modules will be part of their regular curriculum, and that they will be taxing for some.

“There will be extra work, but we will help them understand the advantages to being part of the program and the discoveries that they will make,” Aley said. “They’ll be working on things for which there are no known answers.”

UTEP PERSIST is modeled after a similar program at UT Austin, but this sequence is designed for UTEP’s mostly Hispanic, low-income student demographic.

UTEP is one of 37 national research universities selected from 170 applications to earn the five-year Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant. The Washington, D.C.-based organization, which has supported undergraduate education for more than 25 years, challenged the institutions to develop programs that would increase the numbers of STEM graduates, especially from underrepresented groups.

“Our nation’s research universities are absolutely critical to sustaining our scientific excellence,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian, Ph.D. “Simply put, we are challenging these universities to focus their attention on improving science education so that a greater number of talented students remain in science.”

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