USC Upstate lands $750,000 NSF grant for STEM scholarships

The University of South Carolina Upstate has been awarded a six-year, $750,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program grant. USC Upstate will use the funding to establish the Career Readiness to Inspire STEM Proficiency and Retention (CRISPR) program, which will help boost the recruitment, retention, and graduation of STEM students.

The CRISPR program will provide scholarship support for two cohorts of seven scholars (biology and chemistry majors) who will each receive up to $8,100 each year for up to four years. The first cohort will kick off in Fall 2023, and the second in Fall 2024.

“Having a robust science workforce is key to the health and wellbeing of the community, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said USC Upstate Chancellor Bennie L. Harris, Ph.D. “This grant will help remove financial barriers for students who can excel in the pursuit of biology or chemistry degrees to contribute to that workforce.”

The primary objectives of the CRISPR program are to help USC Upstate:

  • Recruit academically talented, low-income students interested in studying biology and chemistry.
  • Increase the retention and graduation rates of biology and chemistry students.
  • Ensure that scholars have the necessary career skills to be employed as valuable contributors to the STEM workforce through professional development activities that enhance knowledge of STEM career opportunities and career readiness, equipping them for employment or graduate studies.

CRISPR scholars will have access to a variety of resources aimed at helping them chart their career courses. These opportunities will include pre-college orientation, mentoring, research and internship experiences, and career-readiness initiatives.

“One goal of the grant is workforce development, and we hope scholarship recipients learn what rich career opportunities exist for those with degrees in biology and chemistry right here in South Carolina,” said Jeannie Chapman, Ph.D., dean of USC Upstate College of Science and Technology. “Furthermore, we will equip them with the skillset they need to be competitive for the many job vacancies in these fields.”

Program leaders believe all biology and chemistry students at USC Upstate will benefit from the CRISPR program as successful elements of the program will be incorporated into the regular curriculum long after the funding period has ended. These resources could also be applied to the university’s other academic programs to enhance learning experiences and student performance.

An online portal will be set up later this semester so students can apply. Paper applications will be available through high school guidance counselors and science teachers.

Eligibility will be limited to full-time students who meet the NSF S-STEM program’s citizenship/residency requirements, are accepted to USC Upstate, declare a biology or chemistry major, and are Pell-eligible with unmet financial need. Additionally, potential scholars must have at least a 3.0 high school GPA.

“Our hope is that scholarship funding from this grant allows recipients to focus on their coursework and to participate in the many high-impact practices offered at USC Upstate,” said Astrid Rosario, Ph.D., an associate professor of chemistry at USC Upstate who was the principal investigator for the grant proposal.

Co-principal investigators for the proposal included USC Upstate faculty members Ben Montgomery, Ph.D., Colby King, Ph.D., and Susannah Waldrop. Justin Travis, Ph.D., will serve as the social sciences researcher.

This most recent NSF grant is in addition to the one USC Upstate was awarded two years ago to address the region’s need for highly qualified STEM teachers. The university, in partnership with Spartanburg Community College and Spartanburg County schools, received the five-year, $1.2 million NSF Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program grant to fund scholarships for USC Upstate students pursuing dual undergraduate degrees in mathematics, biology, or chemistry, and secondary education.

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