Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

The Catalyst Scholarship Program at Hunter College. A Partnership among Earth Science, Physics, Computer Science and Mathematics

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

The Catalyst Scholarship Program at Hunter College. A Partnership among Earth Science, Physics, Computer Science and Mathematics

Article excerpt


Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is a central theme in higher education today. The national need for a science educated labor force has promoted government funding for programs geared to diversifying and increasing the percentages of the workforce engaged in STEM fields. This funding effort offered unique opportunities to members of society traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. The establishment of scholarship programs at many academic institutions promoted fruitful discussions and research on "best practices" for preparing the next generation of skilled STEM professionals. The impact of this national development was underscored by the 2012 National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM Projects Meeting, attended by about 400 people involved in STEM programs, mostly Principal Investigators at academic institutions and other organizations. The report for this meeting can be accessed from Program_Final.pdf. This meeting was convened to provide a venue to share experiences, discuss challenges and opportunities encountered when implementing STEM programs, review best practices, successes and challenges, and to explore strategies for the sustainability and institutionalization of S-STEM projects. Overall, the experience from these programs has shown that their success depends strongly on effective and dedicated mentoring strategies (e.g., Koenig, 2009; Wilson, Sanner & McAllister, 2010; Yelamarthi & Mawasha, 2008), having a common academic experience for all students in a cohort (e.g., a seminar-style course), and on the active integration of scholars in research projects and other research opportunities (Yelamarthi & Mawasha, 2010).

The Catalyst Scholarship Program (CSP) at Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY) includes all the elements mentioned above and was implemented in specific ways that depended on the realities of the institutional environment. CSP evolved as feedback from the targeted population was received and incorporated. Regular evaluation and assessment led to adjustments that were implemented as the program grew and became better established. In the next section of this paper we present and describe the general structure of CSP and its various components in detail. We follow with a section on the program's overall performance and evaluation. Using results from surveys conducted at the end of the fourth year of the award, we discuss the program's impacts on STEM students and the institution.We conclude this article with a discussion of the dynamic nature of the program, its evolution from its original conception to implementation at the institution, highlighting the lessons learned in the process that might inform new strategies for the future.

Program Background and Description

Institutional Environment

Although scholarship programs share a set of common features, many are characterized by their unique institutional environments, which affect the operations, outcomes and impacts of these programs (Tinto & Pusser, 2006). Hunter College is the largest of 11 senior colleges of the 24-campus City University of New York (CUNY), with a student population of over 20,000. Founded in 1870, it is also one of the oldest public colleges in the country. It is an urban, coeducational, liberal arts institution where a high percent of students are first generation college students. Over 50% of Hunter's students belong to ethnic minority groups. In 2012, the gender ratio at Hunter College was a typical 69% female to 29% male. Seventy-one percent of these students were born outside the United States or have at least one foreign-born parent. Hunter College attracts many students because of its easy access by public transportation but its space limitations forces students to commute elsewhere after class. Hunter provides campus housing for only a small percentage of students. Fifty seven percent are full-time students, and many of those work outside the college. …

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