Penn State Berks engineering students receive LION STEM scholarship

Written by Lisa R. Baldi, Director of Strategic Communications at Penn State Berks.

Seven incoming Penn State Berks students were awarded a scholarship to study engineering through the Penn State Berks Leveraging Innovation and Optimizing Nurturing (LION) STEM Scholars Program. The program is in its second year; the first year also had seven scholarship recipients.

Penn State Berks received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program in January 2022. 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 also will 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 ‘Engineering Ahead,’ 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. Engineering Ahead includes a cohort experience, special on-campus living options, and enrichment activities focused on communication, financial literacy, career readiness, undergraduate research, and community engagement.

This year’s scholarship recipients are Amar Alford, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Kaylee Garcia-Foster, Philadelphia; Alexander Maldonado, Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico; Jada Negron, Allentown, Pennsylvania; Carlos Nunez-Fabian, Reading, Pennsylvania; Giovannie Perez, Denver, Pennsylvania; and Jose Santos, Reading, Pennsylvania.

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“Even before entering college, the LION STEM Scholars Program has opened multiple doors for me,” said Nunez-Fabian. “Because of it, I’ve been able to grow my identity as an incoming engineering student, and I’ve been able to connect with various people who are very interested in my future. As I begin my academic career at Penn State Berks, I know that with the resources from this scholarship program and through the support of the staff and faculty who are supporting us the whole way through, I’ll be able to succeed.”

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, 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 welcome our second cohort of LION STEM Scholars to Penn State Berks. This program allows us to take a holistic approach to analyzing STEM persistence as a byproduct of one’s development of their STEM identity,” Hassler said. “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 also serves as the coordinator of the Penn State Berks Engineering Ahead program. He said that 35% 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.

“The LION STEM Scholarship provides me with the resources necessary to succeed in college,” said Santos. “I had some worries about going to school. How was I going to afford it, and how was I going to succeed academically? The LION STEM Scholarship directly helps me in both these aspects. Alongside the scholarship is an incredible support network made to help students achieve their goals in college. You have numerous mentors looking out for you and all the support when studying your class materials. I truly am grateful to be a part of the LION STEM Scholars.”

The application deadline for 2024 is April 1, and the application can be found on the LION STEM Scholars website.

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