College wins NSF grant for STEM work

August 29, 2018
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
ellis monaghan

Jo Ellis-Monaghan, above, is lead principal investigator for the NSF-grant-funded project. Other key team members, in order below, are Declan McCabe, Greta Pangborn, Bret Findley, Mark Lubkowitz and Michael Larsen.

Saint Michael’s College leaders learned Wednesday that they will receive the largest scholarship grant in the College’s history from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help faculty train more data-savvy scientists and science-savvy mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists through scholarships, enrichment programs and new curriculum that connects disciplines better.


Nearly $1 million has been awarded by the NSF to the faculty at the College from the departments of mathematics/statistics, biology, computer science and chemistry to fund a five-year project entitled “Developing a Life Sciences Workforce with Strong Quantitative Skills.”

The award establishes Saint Michael’s faculty as leaders in recognizing that workers in science fields need better training in the quantitative and computational skills essential to modern data- and modeling-driven life sciences research, say faculty team members, who also have proposed a specific plan to do something meaningful about that need through an innovative college program.


The heart of the grant involves money through the NSF “Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Program (S-STEM), aimed at “recruiting and supporting 20 highly promising but financially needy students in the life sciences, math, statistics and computer science.” Those scholarships, combined with a “focused interdisciplinary curriculum” among those fields at Saint Michael’s,“will increase the numbers of students graduating prepared to enter the workforce or doctoral programs with major/minor combinations from the life sciences on one side and from mathematics, statistics, data science, or computer science on the other,” says the grant’s lead principal investigator, Jo Ellis Monaghan, chair of the department of mathematics and statistics.


The newly funded work will be under the direction of Ellis-Monaghan (mathematics/statistics) and Greta Pangborn (computer science), Bret R. Findley (chemistry), Declan J. McCabe (biology), Michael Larsen (mathematics and statistics) and Mark Lubkowitz (biology), along with external assessment from Joy Livingston of Vermont-based Flint Springs Associates, a research consultant. Also closely involved in the successful grant application were Saint Michael’s Registrar David Barrowclough and Angela Irvine of the Office of Foundation Relation and Sponsored Programs.

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Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt, first to receive news of the award Wednesday in an email from a top NSF grants officer, said, “I am delighted by this news because of the opportunities that it affords academically talented students to study at the highest levels in the STEM fields at Saint Michael’s College. It is further evidence that a small college like Saint Michael’s is exactly the place to study STEM. Caring and involved professors are walking with students every step of the way.”


The researcher-authors for the grant state in their application why they see such work as so important: “One of the most significant positive impacts on society of this program will be developing a Life Sciences workforce with the quantitative and computational skills essential to modern data- and modeling-driven Life Sciences research, which will in turn increase the economic competitiveness of the United States,” they wrote.

While most of the funding goes to scholarships, the grant also supports enrichment programming to help students pursue careers and engage with professionals – travel for student and faculty mentors, conference series, alumni panel, faculty development, and salaries and supplies for student summers researchers, for example.

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