Loras College has received a $649,065 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program. It builds on the College’s award-winning, community-based learning programs, and works to prepare students to fill critical workforce needs. The program is projected to begin in the fall.
The Loras Duhawk STEM (DuSTEM) program, named after the College mascot, “Dewey the Duhawk,” will provide STEM-specific academic guidance and curriculum to students who want to pursue a STEM career. A majority of the funds will be directed to provide scholarships to students who demonstrate academic ability and financial need.
“Students will open doors to working in an exciting career improving the world,” said Kris Thompson, associate professor of engineering and part of the DuSTEM leadership team. “Past graduates from similar programs work for a variety of exciting employers from John Deere to Amazon.”
DuSTEM Students will be personally mentored, become part of a STEM learning community, and participate in community-driven projects to help students find their vocation and create a lasting impact. Faculty will continue to emphasize experiential learning and research, while keeping a strong basis in theory; using instruction that is student-centered, team-based, and depends less on lectures.
The course sequence will not only assist students with the transition between high school and college, but also from college to the workforce or advanced degree. Loras’ Center for Experiential Learning staff and faculty already assist students in obtaining internships, search for employment, prepare for interviews, write resumes, and much more.
The DuSTEM leadership team, Thompson said, believes that implementing community-based learning helps students succeed and provides meaningful reasons for pursuing STEM careers. More than 55 courses at Loras College currently incorporate off-campus outreach. The efforts have earned the College awards from Iowa Campus Compact, placement with distinction on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the last eight years, and in 2014, it garnered the nation’s first U.S. President’s Award for Interfaith Community Service.
In addition, Loras College is one of only five institutions in Iowa with an engineering program accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. Leveraging the successes in engineering and working in collaboration with other STEM disciplines, the program launched a biomedical engineering track in 2016 and a computer engineering track in 2017.
Also, over the past five years, mathematics majors represented 4 to 8 percent of each of the College’s graduating class, significantly higher than the national average. Nearly all these graduates are placed within six months of graduation, whether they choose to further their education in mathematics or a related field or join the workforce in industry or education.
The DuSTEM program is also part of Loras College’s strategic objective to fill workforce needs in STEM fields.
“The Dubuque unemployment rate is an enviable 3.6 percent; however, this has created the new challenge of supplying a high-quality, well-educated workforce able to meet the area’s growing employment needs,” Thompson said.
Included in the grant is a study on the combining academics and service learning to support success of undergraduates in STEM Fields. It’s under the direction of Thompson, Danial Neebel, professor of engineering/computer science; Kathrin Parks, associate professor of sociology; Matthew Rissler, associate professor of mathematics; and Adam Moser, associate professor of chemistry.
Loras College has been awarded several National Science Foundation grants, including $122,000 to purchase spectrometers as well as student/faculty research projects.