Left to right: LHU professors Christine Offutt, Anura Goonewardene and Jacqueline Whitling smile at the announcement of their NSF grant. Professor Joseph McGinn, who is also named in the grant, is not pictured.
Lock Haven--The National Science Foundation has awarded a $599,908 grant to Lock Haven University. The award is in support of a project entitled “Nanoscience Scholars,” under the direction of Dr. Anura Goonewardene, Professor of Physics, chair of the Department of Geology and Physics and coordinator of nanotechnology; Dr. Jacqueline M. Whitling, Associate Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry; and Joseph McGinn, Professor of Philosophy and director of the Honors Program.Lock Haven University is a member of the Pennsylvania State
System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the largest provider of higher education in
the commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 250 degree and certificate
programs in more than 120 areas of study. Nearly 405,000 system alumni live and
work in Pennsylvania.
The grant, which was announced on Monday, September 22, 2008, is part of the NSF’s scholarship program in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM). The basic goal of the S-STEM program, says Goonewardene, is to encourage more American students to do science. “Nationwide,” he said, “number of science graduates are going down while in other parts of the worl the trend is opposite.”
The LHU project takes a cross-disciplinary approach toward attracting, supporting, and retaining students in the sciences. According to Goonewardene, “One of the important things for scientists is to have a continuous sequence of learning, which means that majoring in science is very difficult for students with financial need in their education is interrupted.” The grant will provide scholarships “to help students stay in school and graduate in four years,” said Goonewardene.
However, Goonewardene points out that financial support alone is not sufficient to attract and retain science students. “The literature indicates that just providing money does not work. The key thing is to keep students engaged and excited, and the best kind of engagement is student-to-student engagement,” he said. The Lock Haven S-STEM project is designed to build a strong cohort of students. The project is a collaborative effort with the Honors Program which, Goonewardene says, “has done a marvelous job in building such an identity for students.” The participants will either join the first year excellence program or the honors program during their freshmen year. They will also take the introductory course in nanotechnology, a field which, Goonewardene points out, has application for all science disciplines. In addition, students will be involved in activities with the nanotechnology club, seminars, guest speakers and study groups.
Participants will receive four-year scholarships. The amount will be determined by need, with a maximum award of $10,000 a year per student. The scholarships will allow the students to focus on their studies and not have to hold down a job. In addition, after their sophomore year, students will be required to go to Penn State University for the summer and take 18 hours. The scholarships will cover this part of their education as well. Whitling said that the Penn State summer study is something “students can’t do if they have to get a summer job.” Goonewardene says that based on an average level of need, he expects to award about 16 scholarships next fall. The pilot program begins this fall with four students.
The Nanoscience Scholars project will be evaluated yearly, with the results used for continuous modification and improvement. Dr. Christine Offutt, Associate Professor of Psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology, is the project’s official evaluator. As part of her yearly assessment of the program, Offutt will be surveying and interviewing students as well as faculty. “We need to do more than just look at numbers if we want to get a complete picture of how things are working,” said Offutt. Goonewardene says that Offutt’s annual reports will provide “useful feedback” for improving the program each year.
According to the NSF, the Lock Haven Nanoscience Scholars project is “in a select group nationwide.” It is one of about 95 new S-STEM awards that will be made by the Division of Undergraduate Education this year. These awards are a result of the evaluation of 236 proposals submitted in November 2007.
According to David White, Dean of the College of Arts and Science, “the award shows that faculty at Lock Haven are on the cutting edge of scientific investigation.” He added, “The award will also benefit students who are majoring in or want to major in the sciences.”
The award is effective October 1, 2008 and expires September 30, 2013.