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NSF grant to help community college students study life sciences at UConn

by Richard Veilleux - December 5, 2005

A nutritional science professor’s trip to a national conference three years ago has turned into a $1.53 million grant from the National Science Foundation, with the promise of another $500,000 waiting in the wings.

Hedley Freake left the conference of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) with twin goals of working to diversify the student body at UConn and to further the University’s relationship with the state’s community colleges.

He parlayed his ideas into a partnership that will identify minority or first-generation college students interested in careers in the life sciences and put them on a path to achieve those dreams, starting at Manchester Community College, Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, and Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson, and finishing with a degree from UConn.

“We want to create a seamless pathway to UConn,” says Freake. “The students will refine their cognitive skills – in math, chemistry, and English – and take some classes to help fulfill UConn’s general education requirements. Then they will come to the University as juniors, ready to launch directly into their major.”

Funding for the Science and Technology Reaching Out to a New Generation in Connecticut (STRONG-CT) program will be used to hire program coordinators at UConn and the community colleges, create stipends for graduate students who will supervise the students’ research at UConn, enhance support services, and provide a stipend of $600 a year for each student to offset the cost of books.

Once identified and enrolled in the program, the STRONG-CT students will receive a battery of support services to guide them through their education, including efforts to direct them to organizations and agencies that could provide financial support, mentoring, a First Year Experience program, and group activities that Freake hopes will enhance their comfort level at the institutions.

Support services will continue after the students arrive at UConn, and a research component will begin.

Faculty in 13 departments that offer life science majors – in the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Agriculture and Natural Resources – have agreed to serve as advisors for the STRONG-CT students.

Freake says the goal is to build the program so there will be at least 10 students in each class at each location, which would provide a pipeline of STRONG-CT students at the community colleges. Coordinators at each institution, as well as Damon Williams, UConn’s assistant vice provost for multicultural and international affairs, are co-PI’s for the program.

Freake and the community college partners have already begun recruiting students. They hope the first participants will enroll in the spring semester.

Freake says the main components of the program are based on the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program, offered at UConn under the auspices of the Office of Multicultural and International Affairs.

These components are: pooling resources across institutions to offer a program with rigorous individual and group academic support for core math and science courses; providing mentoring relationships through research opportunities; offering leadership and identity enhancement activities to overcome stereotypes and self-esteem challenges; and helping students develop professional identities through research, mentoring, and internships.

Freake says the life sciences were chosen to build on the strengths of the partnering institutions and to meet the regional workforce needs of industry and government. He says local employment opportunities help make the program attractive to potential students. The three community colleges were chosen due to their proximity to UConn’s Storrs campus, and because articulation agreements with the three have been forged in recent years.

Before transferring to UConn, students must earn an associate’s degree and must carry a grade point average of at least 3.0.

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