The University of North Texas has implemented a scholarship program for its first-year biology, biochemistry and chemistry students in an effort to retain and graduate more students in the sciences.
The program, titled FOCUS (Fostering Outstanding Cohorts in Undergraduate Sciences) was developed by Diana Mason, associate professor of chemistry, and Lee Hughes, assistant professor of biology, and will be supported by a five-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
"Retention is a critical issue nationally within the sciences, and a lack of financial support is often the primary factor in a student leaving a science program," Hughes says.
The program will accept 24 students each year based on financial need, with top consideration going to students who belong to a population that is underrepresented at universities and first-generation students. The students will receive between $1,000 and $7,000 per year depending on their level of need, for their first two years of study. Students will be able to apply for the program during the spring of 2009, and the first group of students will enter the program in fall 2009.
The students will be encouraged to travel through their core science classes as a group, with seats being reserved for FOCUS scholarship students in sections of required courses. Hughes and Mason also are working with UNT's Housing Department to involve FOCUS students with the REAL (Residents Engaged in Academic Living) community for biology majors. The community aspects of the program are intended to foster a support system among the involved students, and further increase retention.
FOCUS also is intended to foster student involvement and interest in science research. The students will be paired with faculty and graduate student mentors, which will give them the opportunity to work in laboratories, an opportunity that is typically reserved for upper-level students.
Students also will be required to take a seminar class on how to be successful in science careers, during their sophomore year. This class will give students more opportunities to learn about research methods and opportunities. The seminar also will help students learn how to fund their junior and senior years by teaching the students about departmental, state and national financial aid resources.
"We hope that after a few years we can analyze the successes of the program and apply our findings to retaining science students nationwide," Hughes says.
The FOCUS program is part of UNT's continuing commitment to retaining and graduating students in the sciences. UNT also has a number of programs and grants intended to develop teachers in the science and mathematics fields, such as Teach North Texas, a collaborative effort between the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences to produce teachers in these high need areas.
UNT News Service Press Release
Alyssa Aber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.