For the second time in six years, the College of Lake County has received a highly sought-after National Science Foundation grant that will be used to fund a program encouraging the enrollment, retention and transfer of students majoring in engineering and computer science.
The $586,076 grant, to be awarded over five years, will fund the program that will provide scholarships and retention services for academically talented students, with special emphasis given to students from under-represented and economically disadvantaged groups, including women and minorities. The scholarships apply only to CLC courses, not the upper-level courses at a four-year university to which a student transfers.
The college's previous NSF grant, awarded in 2006 and amounting to $499,194, has so far provided scholarships for more than 60 students majoring in science or engineering, said Robert Twardock, a professional engineer who is also interim dean for Engineering, Math and Computer Science at CLC. Though there is a lag time in obtaining transfer data, as of May 2011, 65 percent of the CLC scholarship recipients had transferred to four-year programs, and another 16 percent were eligible to do so.
"Coming from the National Science Foundation, this new grant is once again an affirmation of the quality of academic programs at CLC and also the need for engineering and computer science graduates," Twardock said.
Students will be recruited from local high schools and current CLC students, he said. "Schools with a significant minority and low-income population will be targeted; scholarships up to $10,000 each per calendar year will be given to up to 25 selected students each semester, including summer school. The monies will be given for up to three years and must be applied to coursework contributing to an engineering or computer science degree."
High school seniors and current CLC students are eligible to apply for the program, which will start with the fall 2012 semester. To be considered, students must demonstrate financial need, according to federal guidelines; be U.S. citizens, refugees or permanent residents; and be enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester with a major in engineering, computer science or electrical engineering. Additionally, the NSF scholars must meet equivalent CLC prerequisites for pre-calculus or college algebra. The applicants also must provide three letters of recommendation from high school or college faculty, and they must submit an essay indicating their interest and long-term career goals in engineering, computer science or electrical engineering.
Twardock led a group of eight other CLC faculty and staff who worked several months on a proposal for the grant. The college was notified of the award on June 24.
The program's major focus, Twardock said, is removing barriers to students' success in CLC's engineering and computer science programs while ensuring academic rigor.
"Many students face problems entering programs of study in these fields," he said. "Money can be a major roadblock, as can inadequate high school preparation in math and science. Traditional gender roles can create another barrier."
Persisting in engineering and computer science studies is also problematic.
"Across the nation, whether at a college or university, attrition is very high because of the difficulty of these disciplines," Twardock said.
The CLC-NSF program aims at increasing by 10 percent the number of women and low-income students in science and engineering. Another goal is to increase to 70 percent the rate of students transferring to a four-year program.
The college hopes to achieve those results by continuing the integrated program of scholarships, tutoring, advising, mentoring and transfer assistance, Twardock said. "Students will be admitted to the program as a group, and they'll all participate in an orientation program that will introduce them to engineering as a discipline," Twardock said. "During the academic year, they'll be required to attend twice-weekly group sessions that will offer tutoring, advising and social opportunities, and they'll also be strongly encouraged to take difficult classes like calculus together."
Students interested in learning more about the program may contact Twardock at (847) 543-2903 or at firstname.lastname@example.org