Otterbein University awarded grant to fund STEM scholars

The National Science Foundation awarded a grant to Otterbein University to fund a scholarship program for students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). At Otterbein University, the program will specifically help needy Chemistry, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and Physics students.

The $629,000 grant will continue the Cardinal Science Scholar Program at Otterbein, a private Christian college in Westerville, Ohio. The program sets up scholarship recipients with a mentor, provides a separate orientation, and includes field trips and speakers. It was established in 2009 with NSF funds, and has provided scholarships to more than 40 students to date.

“Our students also walk away with a better understanding of what they can do with a degree in these fields, and have already begun to create a professional network beyond Otterbein,” said Dr. Joan Esson, who oversees the program.

The National Science Foundation works to “promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense.” They have an annual budget of $7 billion and fund more than 20 percent of research conducted by colleges and universities across the United States.

“It’s exciting and encouraging to see the National Science Foundation (NSF) interested in supporting our efforts to increase the number and retention of STEM majors at Otterbein University,” Esson said.

This renewed funding from NSF will allow the program to expand into Mathematics and Computer Science majors as well. The funds will also allow the program to add a research stipend for the Scholars.

“The funding from the National Science Foundation is critical in order to have money to support scholarships for these academically talented, but financially needy students,” Esson said.

One student, Bobby Gieger, changed his career aspirations after becoming a Cardinal Science Scholar. Gieger told, “I couldn’t have gotten the opportunity to go to Otterbein if it wasn’t for the program. The advisers are a huge help, it’s a great way to get to know people and it even changed what I want to be in life — from a doctor to a researcher.”

Esson says the support provided to students make many dreams come true and allow scholars to focus on school and research.

“Many of our students work to support themselves through school,” Esson said. “This limits their ability to focus on academics and to also participate in enrichment activities. Receiving the scholarship reduces the need for students to work while in college and allows them to participate in these activities that make them stronger scientists and more marketable for jobs.”

Otterbein’s location helps serve these Scholars once they graduate as well. Otterbein is just outside Columbus, Ohio, which was ranked 8th in the country for technology jobs by Forbes. The graduates from the Cardinal Science Scholars program are then prepared to compete for jobs in tech fields in the area.

Not only does the program significantly help the students involved, it helps fill the STEM gap the United States is currently facing.

“Science and technology are the foundations of industry and commerce and new innovations in these fields are critical to keeping competitive in the world market,” Esson said. “The United States is consistently underperforming in math and sciences when compared to other countries around the world. Thus, supporting STEM education is critical in the United States.”