Aug. 15, 2011
National Science Foundation awards Northwest with grant to provide computer science scholarships
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Northwest Missouri State University students who have an interest in computing and are in need of financial assistance may benefit from a grant awarded to the University's Department of Computer Science and Information Systems.
The National Science Foundation this month awarded the department with an S-STEM grant totaling $517,075 over five years. The grant will help Northwest provide 25 S-STEM scholarships to talented, yet financially disadvantaged students pursuing baccalaureate degrees in computer science or interactive digital media-computer science.
Through a project titled, "Using Socially Relevant Computing to Attract and Retain Computer Science Majors," the department seeks to increase enrollment in the STEM areas - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - while providing students with extensive mentoring by faculty, peers and industry professionals. Research and internship opportunities, field trips and tutoring also will be offered through the grant. Computer science faculty also will work with area K-12 teachers to integrate computing into the K-12 curriculum with the intention of introducing computing to a diverse pool of potential scholars.
Resources developed through the project will be made available to other colleges and universities so results obtained at Northwest can be replicated at other institutions.
Dr. Merry McDonald, a Northwest professor of computer science and information systems who co-authored the grant project, said two key factors played into the department's desire for the grant. While enrollment in computer science programs is down nationwide, faculty are trying to make a case that developments in technology have greatly enhanced opportunities for computer science majors. The department also is actively seeking students who are not only interested in computer science but come from under-represented groups such as women, minorities and low-income families.
"Scholarships are a big factor providing students with a means to attend college, especially with the economy the way it is now," McDonald said. "But you've got to have people that want to study the major. We want to make it clearer to students that there's more to computing than just sitting in a cubicle by yourself and writing code."
Unlike the stereotypes sometimes associated with computing professionals, today's field is more interactive and constantly evolving. Employers are looking for applicants who are comfortable interacting with clients and collaborating on projects. Workers also must be able to communicate with others in technical and non-technical terms.
Faculty members are integrating socially relevant aspects of computing into Northwest's curriculum. Additionally, the program will measure the effects of culturally specific mentoring. Each scholarship recipient will be paired with another student who shares cultural similarities as well as an industry professional to discuss employment and other opportunities.
"We want to be sure that we give our students very meaningful problems and problems from a wide variety of areas," McDonald said. "There are lots of people out there who we think would like computing and would be successful, but they have that image that you just sit in a cubicle and code obscure things."
The National Science Foundation will award $60,995 to Northwest during the first year and $456,080 in the second year to fund the program through 2015. McDonald said the department plans to award the scholarships to its first cohort of 10 to 12 students entering the program for the fall of 2012. The remaining funds will be awarded to students entering in the fall of 2013.
Students awarded the scholarships will benefit for the four years of their undergraduate studies, provided they remain enrolled in a computer science-related major. Students who leave the major will lose their scholarship. McDonald also noted the scholarship amounts will vary among each individual student, and funds from the grant will be awarded to the student only after other financial aid avenues have been exhausted.
Co-authoring the grant proposal with McDonald were faculty members Dr. Gary McDonald, Dr. Michael Rogers, Dr. Bill Siever and Dr. Carol Spradling. Dr. Phil Heeler, who is chair of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, serves as faculty associate on the project.
Dr. Matt Baker, Dr. Leslie Galbreath, Phil Kenkel, Del Morley, Dr. Jon Rickman, Bev Schenkel and Joan Schneider are involved in the project as professional staff.
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