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National Science Foundation awards WCU and four other UNC System schools $3.4 million grant for STEM education for minority students

By Julia Duvall

From left to right, Nelson Granda-Marulanda, Cheryl Waters-Tormey and Heather Coan.

For historically underrepresented minority students interested in studying science, engineering, technology and mathematics, the support and resources are not always accessible or even available.

Western Carolina University and four other University of North Carolina System schools are working to change that narrative through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The $3.4 million grant has been awarded across five UNC System schools through the Mountains to Sea North Carolina Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program.

The funds from this grant will be used by WCU, Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Wilmington to support students in pursuit of STEM degrees at these institutions.

“These funds allow us to create more opportunities for students to explore STEM degrees beyond just taking classes,” said Cheryl Waters-Tormey, LSAMP program director and associate professor in WCU’s Geosciences and Natural Resources Department. “The goal is to support these students in early research experiences and help them build a community of faculty and peers to have throughout their college career.”

WCU’s focus is on recruiting and supporting new STEM students through early research experiences and cohort-building activities. Efforts will focus on incoming students, and first- and second-year students at WCU, who demonstrate relevant interest and motivation, whether they have declared a STEM major or not.

The grant will also support opportunities for collaboration and networking across all five campuses for both faculty and students.

“This has been four years in the making and a great team effort by WCU,” said Heather Coan, LSAMP program coordinator and associate professor of biology. “The process has allowed us to meet many other faculty members at the other four schools, which has become a good resource.”

Nelson Granda-Marulanda, LSAMP assistant program director and assistant professor in the  College of Engineering and Technology, was an LSAMP program participant himself when he was in undergrad in Puerto Rico from 2002-2007.

“I enjoyed my time as an LSAMP student and it helped me develop my passion for STEM,” said Granda-Marulanda. “This is a great opportunity for the five schools to learn from one another and diversify the STEM programs in the UNC System.”

The program will have a soft launch in spring 2023, with a full program starting fall 2023.

Waters-Tormey, Coan and Granda-Marulanda will soon begin talking to students from Southwestern Community College and Haywood Community College interested in STEM and considering transferring to WCU after graduation.

Current WCU students and potential students interested in participating in the LSAMP program at WCU can email for more information.

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