PLNU Receives National Science Foundation Grant to Support STEM Majors

Friday, April 24, 2015

PLNU is pleased to announce the award of a $576,750 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support undergraduate scholarships for PLNU students in the STEM disciplines – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – who also minor in Computational Science while undergraduates at PLNU.


The project, entitled "Scholarships to Support STEM majors Computational Sciences Minors," is under the direction of PLNU faculty from the various STEM departments. Associate Professor of Chemistry, Katherine Maloney, Ph.D. will serve as Principal Investigator for the project which was officially awarded in April 2015 and expected to conclude in 2020.


Maloney is joined by Maria Zack, Ph.D. Professor and Chair of Mathematical, Information and Computer Sciences; Dawne Page, Ph.D. Professor and Chair of Biology, Lorinda J. Carter, Ph.D. Professor of Computer Science; and Paul Schmelzenbach , Ph.D. Professor and Chair Physics and Engineering.             


PLNU has been the recipient of previous NSF awards, however this award is unique. The "Scholarships to Support STEM majors Computational Sciences Minors," proposal was the first application by PLNU to the Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM), in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the NSF.


“This is part of what makes it surprising that we got the funding,” says Maria Zack Ph.D.. “As a new applicant, we were told to expect multiple attempts before qualifying for a funding award.” Although surprising, Zack admits PLNU was well positioned for the award.


“PLNU’s size allows for excellent faculty/student mentoring and faculty collaboration. Our STEM departments have been working together in the areas of research, curriculum development and student development for more than 40 years,” continued Zack.  PLNU’s application proposed to build on the existing pattern of collaboration in PLNU’s STEM community by providing scholarships to academically talented and financially needy STEM students interested in careers and graduate education that combine a STEM discipline with computational science (STEM-CS).


The NSF grant will provide significant scholarships to talented STEM majors who have high financial need and would not otherwise be able to pursue STEM education at PLNU. According to Dawne Page Ph.D., the hope is that, “by meeting most or all of these students’ financial need and giving them academic and career service support, we hope to graduate them into the STEM workforce or into STEM graduate education.”


Key features of this proposal build on the robust student experience in PLNU’s STEM disciplines. All students will participate in undergraduate research, conference presentations and/or publications on the research, and a senior capstone interdisciplinary project in computational science.

Established in 20011, PLNU’s Computational Science minor allows Mathematics or Computer Science students to gain limited knowledge in Biology, Chemistry or Physics to be able to help scientists with their computational needs; and to expose Biology, Chemistry or Physics majors to computational techniques they can collaborate with mathematicians and computer scientists to solve complex problems in science and engineering. This popular minor provides a natural cohort of academically-talented STEM students that take classes together and share a common interest – a key element to the objectives of PLNU’s S-STEM project proposal.


Computational science is the use of computational techniques (e.g. statistics, computer programming, modeling, data management) to help solve problems in the natural sciences, and it is one of the fastest growing areas of employment. The premise of computational science is that much of the current scientific research (particularly in industrial settings involving biotechnology, nuclear power and national security) is conducted by interdisciplinary teams. Each member of the team is an expert in their field of study but is sufficiently conversant with the other disciplines of their team members to be able to function effectively in a team.


The NSF grant award marks an exciting time at PLNU. The STEM population at PLNU has grown steadily over the past several years and continued growth is anticipated. To meet the needs of current and future students, PLNU launched the largest capital campaign in the institution’s history with the Campaign for the Sciences. The capstone of the campaign, PLNU’s new science building, is on schedule for completion in the summer of 2015, set to serve students in the coming fall semester. 



Learn more about PLNU’s STEM opportunities and the Computational Science minor.