President James Dlugos announced that Saint Joseph’s College has been awarded a five-year $647,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund the Saint Joseph’s College Science Scholars Program, a program designed to encourage academically-talented students, who have demonstrated need of financial assistance, to enter into and succeed in a community of young scientists. The Saint Joseph’s College grant award–from the S-STEM NSF program–is the only award of this nature in the state this year and the largest of its kind in Maine, to date. The grant–which recognizes the College’s innovative science education programming–provides considerable scholarship aid, ranging from $5,000 to $7,200 per year for each of the recipient’s four years in college. The first group of Saint Joseph’s College Science Scholars will be selected from first-year students entering in the fall of 2018 who are committed to studying in a range of scientific fields, including chemistry, biology, environmental science, biochemistry, and marine science.
“In today’s rapidly changing world, education in science, technology, engineering, and math has never been more important,” said Senators Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint statement. “This grant will be instrumental in giving students the opportunity to pursue promising STEM careers and become the next generation of trailblazers in their respective fields. Saint Joseph’s College has been a leader in equipping students with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century, and we are pleased that these scholarships will provide more motivated young people with access to this quality education.”
The selected Saint Joseph’s College Science Scholars will benefit from receiving:
- Four years of scholarship support at levels ranging from $5,000 to $7,200 each of four years;
- One-week field experience prior to the freshman fall;
- Use of a laptop for four years;
- Science Scholar seminars, conferences, and research experiences;
- Support from faculty and upperclassmen mentors.
About the award, President James Dlugos, Ph.D. said, “This National Science Foundation grant allows us to recruit and graduate some of the best science students from New England and beyond. With these funds, we can offer greater access to higher education in the sciences, offer an innovative approach to science career development, and help meet the growing workforce needs in STEM fields. Since the college has built new science laboratories this past year, it’s an opportune time for students to consider studying science at Saint Joseph’s College.”
Dr. Steven Jury, Assistant Professor of Biology and Principal Investigator on the grant said, “We are excited to have the opportunity to recruit excellent science students with diverse backgrounds and have them choose our Science Scholars Program. With our access to Sebago Lake, the Gulf of Maine, the White Mountains, and coastal estuaries, Saint Joseph’s College students not only study science, but will work as a community of scientists in the lab and field. We’re confident that our Science Scholars program can serve as a model for other programs across the country.”
Dr. Johan Erikson, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Co-Principal Investigator said, “Our students are securing jobs in the science field as soon as they graduate, jobs in water quality science, biomedical chemistry labs, and environmental science fieldwork positions. And yet, we need more students. We have biomedical corporations approach us and ask, ‘How can we increase the pipeline of science students who are available to recruit? We are having trouble filling available positions.’ Nationally, there is a shortage of critical thinkers and problem solvers in the science fields. We are trying to address this by creating a new model for science education at the college level.”
Dr. Marion Young, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Co-Principal Investigator on the grant said, “The Science Scholars program fosters building a community of scientists, helping science students to become part of a team, part of something even bigger than the College. This project fits well with both Saint Joseph’s College’s core value of engaging community and the Sisters of Mercy’s critical concern for the environment.” As the social scientist on the grant, Dr. Young will research the impact of science students’ participation in the grant-funded program, including their persistence through the four-year college experience and after graduation.
About Sciences at Saint Joseph’s College:
The Sciences Department at Saint Joseph’s College includes majors in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, environmental science, and marine science with additional offerings in ecology, geology, and climate change. The College’s unique location means that students study first-hand at the ocean, in the mountains, on Sebago Lake, and on the College’s working farm. The Sciences faculty have built a rigorous program in laboratory and field science research methods; with the NSF funding, the department will extend this even further and Saint Joseph’s College Science Scholars will begin their scientific research in the month prior to the start of their classes of their freshman year.
The College uses its location on Sebago Lake as a unique living laboratory for studies of air, water, climate, energy, and health/wellbeing. Environmental Science 107: Research Science on Sebago is an introductory level class that teaches underclassmen how to conduct environmental chemistry research, specifically, a carbon cycling project in the lake watershed. Students collect and analyze samples, learn to operate a carbon analyzer, and study the carbon cycle, a building block for understanding climate change.
In one of the few programs in the country designed to immerse students in the practice of field science for an entire semester entirely off campus, the rigorous, ten-week scientific expedition Environmental Science Semester delivers a full course load in Climate Change and Glacial Geology, Marine Ecology, Oceanography, and Field Methods; students travel in two countries, across two states, and to six Maine islands, gathering and interpreting data from unique field sites.
Upper-level students conduct field and laboratory research on a variety of projects, such as the effects of logging and tree clearing on runoff into streams; Sebago Lake water quality and sediment chemistry, in coordination with the Portland Water District; and the lead content of drinking water in Maine’s public schools or how metals affect freshwater fish, using the college’s Trace Chemistry Lab, to name a few.
The Sciences department also supports the College’s core curriculum and emphasis on sustainability, as well as large majors in nursing and exercise science. The College’s curriculum—explicitly including environmental science and a sustainability minor—spans 82 undergraduate and 9 graduate courses teaching aspects of sustainability. Each of the College’s 1,000 students must enroll in the core course Environmental Science 300: Ecology and the Environmental Challenge. This course teaches basic ecological principles, the major environmental challenges facing the planet, and potential solutions to these challenges. All graduates develop scientific literacy and critical perspectives on environmental policy. Using the College’s working farm as a teaching laboratory, ES300 students are required to learn about the adverse effects of the large-scale, industrial form of agriculture that dominates modern food production and, through hours of hands-on farm experience, learn what it means to produce food with less fossil fuel dependence.
For an example of Saint Joseph’s College students conducting field and laboratory research, read about Erick Schadler’s research into ticks carrying Lyme disease.
Watch Haley Batchelder conduct research into Sebago Lake sediment chemistry, in collaboration with the Portland Water District.