St. Mary’s, Trinity University, Our Lady of the Lake University and the University of the Incarnate Word team up to implement the National Science Foundation grant

The National Science Foundation has awarded four private, liberal arts universities in San Antonio a grant of nearly $2.5 million to increase the number of historically underrepresented students and those from lower-income backgrounds obtaining bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

St. Mary’s University will administer the grant-funded project from the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program. To implement the grant of $2,478,170 over the next five years, St. Mary’s will collaborate with two fellow local Hispanic-Serving Institutions — Our Lady of the Lake University and the University of the Incarnate Word — as well as an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution, Trinity University, said co-principal investigator Melissa Karlin, Ph.D., St. Mary’s Director of the Office of Student Research and Inquiry.

“We want to help underrepresented, minority students stay in college, successfully graduate and transition into graduate school or careers in STEM fields,” said Karlin, a St. Mary’s Associate Professor of Environmental Science. “We see many students drop from these majors by their second year, and we worked to identify the main factors during a pre-planning grant period. Based on those results, this new program will include intentional mentoring and relationship building between STEM students, peer coaches and faculty mentors across the Alliance. That bond among the students and sense of belonging will hopefully increase, and help faculty and mentors to more easily identify issues or struggles as they arise.”

Together, the Alliance will:

  • Recruit, enroll and support underrepresented minority STEM students by nurturing their psychosocial development needed to transform their sense of belonging as scientists
  • Engage students’ families in an orientation event to help them understand the demands of the STEM academic world
  • Collaborate between universities on data collection to better understand the effectiveness of different retention strategies
  • Evaluate the project’s activities to maximize impact on student retention, persistence and graduation, as well as enrollment in STEM graduate programs and the workforce
biochemistry students in a lab

About 400 STEM majors will benefit from the grant. Each university will launch a cohort of 20 students annually and support them for their first two years of college, which is when they have identified a drop in retention, Karlin said.

The program will include a joint orientation for each cohort of students and their families from all four institutions, as well as Alliance-wide workshops and programming. During eight-week summer research sessions, up to six scholars from each institution will have their housing covered and receive a stipend as they undertake research with faculty at any of the four institutions who share their area of interest.

Karlin said that the long history and strength of the relationship between the universities aided their application for the grant.

Here’s what the other University members of the Alliance shared about their participation:

“This program represents the first STEM alliance between the four predominantly undergraduate institutions in San Antonio. We have worked as a team for the past four years, initially garnering support for a pre-alliance award in 2020 that offered funding for a yearlong planning stage,” said Veronica G. Martinez Acosta, Ph.D., University of the Incarnate Word Professor of Biology. “This Pre-Alliance award helped us identify challenges that each of us held in common and those that are unique to our institutions. We firmly believe there is power in working as a team of predominantly undergraduate institutions to help address the need for increased retention of diverse individuals in STEM. This is a historic first for San Antonio as the first predominantly undergraduate institutions alliance to be awarded a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation grant!”

“I’m particularly excited for our students to develop a larger sense of community with their STEM counterparts from our Alliance partners,” said Teresita Munguia, Ph.D., Our Lady of the Lake University Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of Chemistry. “This will give them a network of peers that they will take with them into graduate studies and their career fields.”

“Trinity is pleased to be part of this Alliance and learn what activities best support student retention in STEM fields. This is vital to the future of STEM, our universities and the greater San Antonio community,” said David Ribble, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Biology Professor at Trinity University.

Back to top