HudsonAlpha and UAH receive NSF grant to recruit, retain students in STEM

Huntsville, Ala. — The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and The University of Alabama in Huntsville have been selected by the National Science Foundation to receive a $638,777 grant through the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or S-STEM, program.

Only 80 to 100 grants awarded annually, and competition is fierce, so it’s notable that among the proposals selected this fall was a proposal submitted jointly by HudsonAlpha and UAH to fund the UAH-HudsonAlpha Outreach Partnership, or UHOP.

The partnership will identify high school students who are both academically talented and interested in pursuing an academic and a professional career in the field of biotechnology and recruit those students to enroll at UAH. Grant dollars will provide roughly a dozen scholarships each year for first-time freshman who start in the fall. In return for the scholarships, students will be expected to meet certain obligations required by the grant.

To address the concern of retention, as many students end up switching majors because they don’t see the practical application of what they’re doing in class or how it fits in with their career goals, students won’t wait until their junior or senior year to take part in hands-on biotechnology research; they’ll start as freshman in the labs at HudsonAlpha.

“We’ve partnered with HudsonAlpha to offer a course in sequencing and analyzing DNA,” said Debra Moriarity, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at UAH, adding that this early exposure will enable the students to form strong relationships with faculty and professional researchers. “We think this combination will give them the context for all the courses they’re required to take so that they’ll have motivation to take more courses.”

Dr. Moriarity will serve as the principal investigator on the five-year $638,277 grant. Joining her as co-principal investigators are fellow faculty members Joseph Ng, Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Biotech Science & Engineering Program at UAH and founder of HudsonAlpha associate company iXpressGenes; Dr. Luciano Matzkin, Assistant Professor and Director of the Graduate Program and a HudsonAlpha adjunct faculty member.

“HudsonAlpha is excited to partner with UAH for the UHOP program,” said HudsonAlpha Vice President for Education Neil Lamb. “Members of the Educational Outreach team will introduce students to laboratory research through a semester-long experience that will lay the foundation for their future scientific careers.”

Job growth in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields over the next decade is expected to far outpace the national average, yet current estimates show that fewer and fewer high school students are interested in STEM careers. As a result, the pipeline of skilled academicians and researchers is starting to run dry, leaving America behind in the global economy.

To combat this worrying trend, the National Science Foundation introduced the Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program, enabling institutions of higher education to apply for grants that they can then use to recruit, retain, and graduate academically talented, financially needy students interested in pursuing a degree in the STEM fields.

See the full announcement from UAH here.