The College of New Jersey has received full funding ($600,000) from the National Science Foundation to support a program entitled “PERSIST in Biology and Chemistry (Program to Enhance Retention of Students in Science Trajectories).” Donald Lovett, professor of biology, is principal investigator on the grant and will direct the PERSIST program. He will be joined by co-principal investigators and other members of the project team, Lynn Bradley, associate professor of chemistry, Benny Chan, assistant professor of chemistry, Miriam Segura-Totten, assistant professor of biology, and Jeffrey Osborn, dean of the School of Science, in implementing this program to increase the retention of economically disadvantaged students majoring in biology or chemistry. In addition to providing scholarships of up to $10,000 per student per year, the four-year program will provide enhanced student support services with the goal of increasing the number of students from underserved groups who will seek careers in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The program will also be made possible through the collaborative efforts of staff members from the Offices of Admissions, Student Financial Services, the Tutoring Center, Career Services, Education Opportunity Fund (EOF), Student Affairs, Academic Support, and Institutional Research, together with faculty members from the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Psychology and Education.
According to Lovett, “we [the Departments of Biology and Chemistry] already provide excellent experiences for students in our majors through a strong tutoring network, peer-mentoring, and an extensive program of departmental seminars, workshops and non-classroom experiences. The most significant experience that we provide our students is undergraduate research. Students get to work side-by-side in the lab or in the field with a professor here on campus or with a scientist off campus in independent research projects, where the students get to experience first-hand what it is like to work as a scientist. All of these programs and opportunities help to provide a sense of community among the students and faculty and help to motivate students to excel in their respective fields. Unfortunately, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often cannot avail themselves of these services and programs because they must seek year-round employment to support their college education. It is our hope that the PERSIST program will relieve these students of the need to work (or incur loan debt) so that they can more readily take advantage of these support services and programs, all of which are vital to engaging any student in the STEM majors. Participants in PERSIST will be provided with a personal tutor, a peer mentor from within their major, and a faculty mentor. Although each of these services already is available to all students, for participants in PERSIST these services will be coordinated and developed with each student’s specific needs in mind. It is the goal of the PERSIST program to increase the retention of these students in their majors and to direct them to graduate studies or the work force in STEM disciplines.”
The PERSIST program was proposed in response to TCNJ President R. Barbara Gitenstein’s 2007 Initiatives for Integrated Transformation and was specifically developed to improve access to the College and to increase success (through increased retention and graduation rates) among under-served populations from New Jersey. The PERSIST program was selected as one of 95 programs funded nationwide by the National Science Foundation and is part of a $60 million Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program. The statistics at TCNJ match those in higher education across the country: the number of underrepresented minority students who enroll in STEM majors and succeed to graduation is disproportionately lower than their representation in the general population. The PERSIST program is designed to improve these statistics and to contribute to a more diverse student population in the School of Science at TCNJ and a more diverse workforce in the State of New Jersey and the nation.