Penn State Berks students receive LION STEM scholarship for engineering

Four Berks County graduates are among the recipients.

Seven incoming Penn State Berks students were awarded a four-year renewable $6,250 scholarship to study engineering through the Penn State Berks Leveraging Innovation and Optimizing Nurturing (LION) STEM Scholars Program.

Earlier this year, Penn State Berks received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program. The grant was used to create the LION STEM Scholars Program, which provides support in the form of a four-year renewable $6,250 scholarship to talented engineering students with demonstrated financial need. Students who meet the requirements will receive $25,000 over four years.

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In addition to scholarship funds, students will also receive academic support, mentoring, and professional development through the LION STEM Scholars Program. A cohort of students will be enrolled in the program each year for three years, for a total of 18 scholars over the program period.

The LION STEM Scholars Program also provides other experiences shown to support college success including a free four-week summer “bridge” program to enhance academic preparedness and to provide community-building experiences prior to the first fall semester of college, a cohort experience, special on-campus living options, and enrichment activities focused on communication, financial literacy, career readiness, undergraduate research, and community engagement.

Scholarship recipients include Aetienne Butler of Philadelphia; Mark Longenberger of Gilbertsville; Gabriel Regaldo-Moya of Reading; Warren Reinhart of Reading; Kevin Smith of New York City; Emmerson Valazquez of Reading; and Oleska Zobkiv of Lake Forest, Illinois.

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“What the LION STEM scholarship means to me is an opportunity to remain financially fit while giving most of my focus to the classroom,” states Reading High School graduate Emmerson Velazquez.

“I believe opportunities shape your future, and this is one of the best opportunities I’ve had yet,” adds Muhlenburg High graduate Warren Reinhart.

The main goal of the LION STEM Scholars Program is to enhance the STEM workforce by graduating more diverse high-achieving STEM students who have demonstrated financial need. Penn State Berks will collect data to analyze how curricular and co-curricular activities influence STEM identity and disseminate findings in the areas of STEM persistence and role identity.

Ryan Hassler, associate teaching professor of mathematics at Penn State Berks, is the principal investigator on the grant, along with co-principal investigators Dawn Pfeifer Reitz, assistant teaching professor of communication arts and sciences, and Janelle Larson, division head of engineering, business and computing at Penn State Berks. Other senior personnel on the grant include Sonia Delaquito, coordinator of the Learning Center at Penn State Berks, and Catherine Cohan, assistant research professor in the Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion at Penn State University Park, who will provide program evaluation support.

“I am excited to begin the LION STEM Scholars program, which takes a holistic approach to analyzing STEM persistence as a byproduct of one’s development of their STEM identity,” explains Hassler.

“Through targeted interventions, this program will provide students with academic and co-curricular support across their four-year engineering degrees at Penn State. The financial support provided by the National Science Foundation will be nothing short of a life changer for those who might otherwise not be able to afford higher education.”

Hassler is the coordinator of the Penn State Berks Engineering Ahead program, a four-week summer “bridge” program held prior to the freshman year to increase retention rates among a diverse group of engineering students by enhancing academic preparedness and enabling students to build social bonds. He explains that 30% of the students enrolled in the Engineering Ahead program are eligible for federal Pell grants. Hassler was interested in applying for the NSF S-STEM grant because many economically disadvantaged students are not able to complete their degrees due to financial limitations. The LION STEM Scholars Program will provide some of the funds these students need to complete their degrees.

“The LION STEM Scholars Program is an exciting new program that builds on the success of the Engineering Ahead project, also funded by the National Science Foundation. The short-term goal is to increase the success of talented Berks students who want to major in engineering and who have documented financial need. The long-term goal is to improve students’ social mobility and overall diversity in the engineering workforce,” added Cohan.

Aetienne Butler, graduate of Academy at Palumbo, The School District of Philadelphia, said “High school has ended, but now it’s time for the big one: the LION STEM program. I don’t know what to expect but I’m excited to become an engineer.”

Gabriel Regalado-Moya, a graduate of Reading High, summarizes the thoughts of his classmates. “I am grateful for the Lion Stem Program; it is the aid that will help me take my first proper step toward my future goals and completion of a college education.”

The application deadline for 2023 is April 1, and the application can be found on the LION STEM Scholars website at sites.psu.edu/berkslionstemprogram.

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