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In an effort to raise graduation rates among low-income and underrepresented students studying physical science, the National Science Foundation has awarded Weber State University nearly $1,000,000 in grant money.

The money is intended to support WSU’s efforts in recruitment, retention and graduation for students of the physical sciences: geosciences, computer science, engineering, chemistry and mathematics.

Dr. Tracy Covey, chemistry assistant professor, said this grant program will make a direct and immediate impact on 30 students over the next few years.

“However, an even larger impact will come from research and implementing support systems specific to our student population,” Covey said. “This is something the grant team is passionate about, and the NSF grant gives us the financial support to actually do it.”

This grant money, totaling $970,000, will be dispersed over five years among 30 low-income, high-achieving WSU students in both the College of Science and the College of Engineering, Applied Science and Technology.

The 30 recipients of this grant have not been selected, though Covey said they are starting the recruiting process. She said they are primarily focusing on seniors at local high schools for recruitment, since the grant functions as a four-year scholarship.

“We have a lot of low-income but high-achieving students in the area,” Covey said. “A lot of Weber State students are local, so if we could get those people here and help pay for their school, we know that would be helpful for them.”

Elizabeth Balgord, geosciences assistant professor, said this program will engage the local community, including traveling to various classrooms and inviting students from the surrounding area to visit the Tracy Hall Science Center.

“We are working with a large group of scientists and community members to build the Great Salt Lake Microbialite Observatory,” Balgord said. “The observatory will allow us to collect data and develop class material that can be accessed and used by students and teachers around the country to understand the Great Salt
Lake ecosystem.”

This program won’t function like a traditional scholarship, since its intent is to provide sustained support for the recipients rather than directly covering costs of education.

“It’s a need-based scholarship, but it’s also for high-achieving students with interests in the physical sciences,” Covey said. “It’s also for students who want to be involved in their community and have had leadership roles in the past.”

Covey said the grant team is also looking for diversity in the grant recipients to help minorities and women get into the physical sciences.

Barb Trask, associate dean of the College of Science, said the college is supportive of the grant team’s efforts to increase diversity.

“We’re proud of our faculty for working so hard to create a supportive and inclusive environment for all students in the college,” Trask said. “We’re excited for our future.”

Covey said the NSF wants this relationship to continue past this one grant, though there are measures to ensure the grant money continues past the initial five years. She said these measures include peer interactions, mentoring, and leadership and research opportunities.

These measures are not intended to be exclusive to the grant recipients, either. According to Covey, the NSF wanted the grant proposal to explain how the grant team will implement these measures for all physical science students to directly influence and increase the number of graduating students.

Covey said the likelihood of this grant being renewed at the end of this five year period will be determined by the grant team’s ability to meet these requirements

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