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Posse supports STEM students

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Junior Abria Bonner, left, assists Dr. Michelle Fry, associate professor of biochemistry, with her research. Bonner is part of the STEM Scholars program, designed to support students enrolled in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Fewer students nationwide are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), so it is of utmost importance that universities make those rigorous disciplines as accessible as possible. Dr. Kelly McConnaughay and Dr. Julie Reyer are striving to increase the number and diversity of graduates in these fields through Bradley University’s STEM Scholars program.

Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, the STEM Scholars program couples Bradley’s nurturing atmosphere with outstanding academic curricula. With a strong support system involving professors and peers, the diverse group of students obtains the academic tools to be successful.

Thirty-seven students have enrolled in the program since it began three years ago. Of those, two have graduated, one became a business major, and the others are progressing toward their degrees in STEM disciplines.

Dr. McConnaughay, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Reyer, assistant dean in the College of Engineering and Technology, spearhead the program and advise the students throughout their undergraduate years.

“We took the best that Bradley has to offer and built on that,” Dr. McConnaughay says.

Bradley offers personal attention to students, a quality that is magnified in the STEM Scholars program. At-risk, need-based students are placed in an environment that encourages them to get to know professors and fellow students so they can establish a support system.

The experience begins with STEM Scholars Week, held the week before other students arrive on campus in the fall. The week acclimates students to their new academic environment, including personal sessions with science and engineering professors. Students also participate in team-building exercises and activities to help them adjust to the college environment.

All incoming STEM Scholars live in the same residence hall and enroll in the same section of the University Experience course taught by Dr. Reyer. She encourages students to study together, talk with professors if they are struggling, and come to her if they are having any difficulties. “I try to get them moving toward being a member of a team. I want to give these students a sense of place at Bradley and loosely form a living and learning community.”

Junior Abria Bonner appreciates the opportunities that opened for her as a STEM Scholar, most notably assisting chemistry professor Dr. Michelle Fry with her research.

 “It’s a learning experience that involves a lot of patience and a lot of problem solving,” Bonner says. A biochemistry major, she plans to attend medical school and is sure her undergraduate research experience will be beneficial as her schooling continues.

Junior transfer student Andy Kirby, a biology major, is beginning his STEM experience but already feels comfortable communicating with professors. “I emailed Dr. McConnaughay last night to get some help with a biology assignment. It’s nice to know you have that here. Sometimes instructors can seem intimidating.”