(MURFREESBORO) A group of Middle Tennessee State University faculty, under the leadership of chemistry professor Andrienne Friedli, recently launched a last-dollar scholarship program to fund and support undergraduate and graduate biochemistry and chemistry students in need.
“The project aims to increase student persistence in STEM fields by linking scholarships with
proven effective supporting activities, including faculty and peer mentoring, research experiences, professional development courses, graduate school and employment preparation, and participation in discipline-specific conferences,” Friedli said.
Friedli collaborated with faculty Charles Chusuei, Scott Handy, Katy Hosbein, Justin Miller, Kevin Bicker, Ngee Chong, Keying Ding, Mengliang Zhang and Eric Oslund, grant evaluator, to land and manage the six-year, $1.97 million grant.
Ten qualifying master’s students will each receive up to $20,000 per year and 15 junior or senior undergraduates will each be awarded an estimated $7,000 per year to assist their educational pursuits in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
“MTSU has a high population of underrepresented students, including first-generation college students,” Friedli said, “and also a high percentage of Middle Eastern and North African students, (so) this project has the potential to broaden participation in STEM fields.”
Eric Olsund, who, unlike the rest of the team, works outside of STEM as chair of the Elementary and Special Education Department, said faculty collaboration is the most important aspect of succeeding with a grant like this.
“The overlapping but different skill sets provide the students with the best experience because they are benefiting from multiple areas of expertise,” Oslund said. “We sometimes have a tendency to live in our narrow world of the content we are experts in…. I’ve been on multiple million-dollar grants in areas outside of my area that have high success rates because of the diversity and collaboration of faculty with different backgrounds and perspectives that lead to the best experience for our students.”
Since its early launch a month ago, the Scholarships for STEM grant, more commonly known as the S-STEM grant, has already awarded a total of $50,000 to five students: Hannah Butler, Ryleigh Porter, Alexandria Rankin, Joshua Thammathong and Jacob Thomas. Friedli said the goal is to award 25 students annually.
“I was extremely happy,” said Porter, a first-year chemistry master’s student who qualified to earn $10,000 for both the fall and spring semesters. “I'm a GTA (graduate teaching assistant) but also started the semester working another job. When I heard I would get this scholarship, I was happy that I could quit that other job and just focus on school and being a good GTA teaching chemistry labs.”
“It honestly felt great that I got the scholarship since it allowed me to pay my rent without having to worry on other things such as utilities and such,” said Thammathong, a second-year master’s student who received the full amount allowed by the NSF for this semester. “For me, it's practically life-changing.”
Porter and Thammathong also both highlighted the program’s strength of community and cutting-edge equipment.
“I love the community of the chemistry program at MTSU,” Porter said. “Everyone knows each other, and I feel like I have lots of people on my side who want me to succeed here.”
“There are a lot of instruments in the department that are actually used in industry, from HPLC's (high-performance liquid chromatograph) to NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance),” Thammathong said. “As students, we are exposed to complex instrumentation so that when we eventually graduate and search for a job, we can be confident that we can operate some of these instruments.”
In addition to the program providing funding and support to students, Friedli noted its projected benefits for the greater Nashville community.
“The population grew by nearly 20% in a decade, bringing jobs that require both bachelor’s and master’s level chemistry knowledge and skills,” she said. “The major industries include medical services, automobile manufacturing and environmental monitoring. Many of our graduates, at both the B.S. and M.S. levels, remain in the region after graduation and are employed in a range of companies … Considering the demand for chemists, MTSU is in an ideal position to deliver trained graduates to support business in Tennessee and beyond.”
Learn more about MTSU’s chemistry programs at https://www.mtsu.edu/