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Science Foundation grant helps UNA head tri-state alliance

FLORENCE – The National Science Foundation recently awarded the University of North Alabama nearly $2.5 million to lead a three-state partnership to expand and diversify the number of STEM graduates to meet growing regional workforce demands.

Along with UNA, the Tri-State Alliance includes the University of Tennessee-Martin, Mississippi University for Women, and Northwest Shoals Community College. This is UNA’s inaugural NSF Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) grant and the most substantial award ($2,497,206) it has received to date. 

In 2021, upon securing an initial planning grant from NSF, UNA worked with its partner institutions to craft a competitive grant proposal. 

“Typical planning phases involve significant face-to-face interactions among alliance members,” said Dr. Amber Paulk, UNA’s deputy provost and a sociology professor. “The pandemic posed unexpected challenges; however, our alliance’s determination and adaptability were rewarded. We secured the grant on our first attempt, which underscores our collective commitment and unified vision.” 

Among the key personnel on the team, Paulk is joined by Dr. Candice Quinn, Assistant Professor of Mathematics; and Dr. Molly Mathis, Director of the Office of Institutional Research. Additional consultation was provided by Dr. Carmen Burkhalter, Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at UNA.

The grant’s primary goal is to bolster graduation rates for Underrepresented Minority Students (URMs) in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics baccalaureate programs by supporting students who may be underprepared for foundational math and science courses at the collegiate level. 

“Students facing challenges in these pivotal subjects have a tougher path to success,” Quinn said. “The Tri-State Alliance will offer robust support mechanisms for these students, including a Summer Bridge Program, peer tutoring, and faculty mentorship in order to promote student success and persistence to graduation.”

The regional nature of the partnership also has far-reaching implications for the number of students who would have an opportunity with these programs and, in turn, could support STEM jobs in the future.

“We recognize the significance of cultivating STEM professionals from the tri-state region and addressing our area’s workforce demands while promoting greater representation and inclusivity in STEM,” said Dr. Katie Kinney, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “This initiative stands as yet another testament to UNA’s unwavering commitment to workforce development and regional advancement.”

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