As a high school student researching colleges, Ashley Zacher knew all about Robert Morris University: her father, Tom, graduated from RMU in 1975.
Still, she had in mind going somewhere a little farther away from her home in Plum. Until, that is, she learned about the Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which RMU launched in 2009 with a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The goal of the program was to recruit high achieving students from low-income backgrounds or groups underrepresented in math, science, and technology fields.
Eligible students received a $6,000 scholarship each of their four years at RMU. The S-STEM Scholars also participated in a two-week math and science boot camp before the start of their first semester, and also took part in community service projects together. Those students who chose to live on campus, including Zacher, lived together in the same residence hall their freshman year.
Of the 21 original students enrolled into the program, 17 graduated with their RMU classmates on Saturday, May 11 in the Sewall Center Arena. Three more students joined the program as sophomores and also are graduating this year.
The retention rate for the S-STEM Scholars was higher than that of RMU students overall, and they also outperformed their peers in the classroom. As a group, the S-STEM scholars had a QPA of 3.45 as of the end of the Fall 2012 semester.
“They delivered academically. They delivered professionally. And what’s important is they had good experiences with us,” Maria Kalevitch, dean of the School of Engineering, Mathematics, and Science, said in a news release. Kalevitch oversaw the S-STEM Scholars program.
Professors like Kalevitch are one reason why the program was so successful, said Steve Abel, who graduated with a degree in biology and has been accepted to study medicine at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Florida.
“My parents, neither one of them went to college, so I was on my own with whole application process for medical school. But Dr. Kalevitch was there with me the whole time,” Abel, a graduate of West Allegheny High School, said in a news release.
As with Zacher, the S-STEM Program was the deciding factor for Abel to attend Robert Morris; Allegheny and Washington & Jefferson colleges were in the mix as well. The freshman year boot camp and service project helped Abel make personal connections with classmates that, as a commuter, he might not have otherwise established.
Zacher majored in financial mathematics with a minor in actuarial science, and she graduated a semester early. She is now working at Erie Insurance as an actuarial analyst for life insurance policies.
“RMU prepared me more than I could have expected,” Zacher said in a mnews release.
The S-STEM Scholars Program is wrapping up, but Kalevitch said the school will seek NSF funding for a similar program in the future, possibly in partnership with the Pittsburgh Promise, which provides college scholarships for graduates of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and also working with RMU’s Uzuri Research Think Tank, which studies models of success for African-American men.
Enrollment in the school is double what it was five years ago, and enrollment in engineering programs alone has quadrupled.
“It is good to see that when you offer support like we offered to the S-STEM Scholars, that they deliver,” Kalevitch said.
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