Webster University Receives $1.2M Grant to Improve Path from Community College to STEM Degree

Webster University has been awarded a nearly $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create scholarships and support systems to benefit low-income, high-achieving students who transfer from community colleges to complete a four-year STEM degree at Webster University. The project is titled “Winning Approaches for Talented Transfers in STEM” (WATTS).

The long-term goal of this project is to identify and share successful strategies for supporting STEM transfer students to degree completion. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This grant is one of several in recent years supporting Webster’s work with community partners in the sciences and health. Our STEM faculty and the passion they bring to helping their students succeed epitomize Webster’s commitment to making a difference in the communities we serve,” said Webster University President Julian Z. Schuster. “I want to congratulate professors Mary Preuss, Stephanie Schroeder and Ryan Groeneman, our Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and Webster’s entire team for their efforts to make this proposal a reality.”

Over the next 5 years, the WATTS project will award scholarships to 32 academically-talented, financially-needy transfer students from area community colleges who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in Webster University’s biology or chemistry programs. 

The WATTS project aims to retain at least 90% of WATTS Scholars through degree completion using a strategy that combines existing academic support systems such as Webster’s Reeg Academic Resource Center, with targeted approaches, such as peer mentoring, that are tailored to meet the needs of incoming transfer students.

“Through this grant we will strengthen our collaborations with St. Louis Community College and St. Charles Community College and support students’ ability to finish their four-year degree in a science field.  We will develop a deeper understanding of the factors that affect the recruitment, retention, graduation, and post-graduation success of students transferring from community colleges, which all institutions will benefit from,” said Biology Associate Professor Mary Lai Preuss, the project lead for WATTS.

“The project evaluation will include an in-depth examination of the impact of student participation in this first-semester learning community on their future involvement in undergraduate research, their interest in pursuing graduate education, and their career choices.” 

The WATTS project also will contribute to the scientific workforce in St. Louis, which in turn will increase the number of high-wage employees, and will have a greater impact on their families, local retailers, and the regional economy.  

Webster University has received several major grants in the past few years. In June, Webster received a $1 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services to work with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and other community health organizations to identify and treat mental health issues in patients from immigrant and underserved communities who are seeking medical treatment. In February, Webster University received its first grant, through the STARTALK program. Funded by the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), “STARTALK: Our Languages, Our Gateway,” will strengthen the preparation of teachers of two critical languages, Persian and Arabic, in the St. Louis area.

In 2019, Webster University was awarded a $124,000 National Science Foundation Noyce Capacity-Building grant to encourage talented STEM majors to become math and science teachers in high-need Missouri K-12 schools, addressing a critical need in the state. In 2016, the Webster University Department of Nursing was awarded a $100,000 Hearst Foundation grant to promote the hiring of new nursing faculty members who were working on doctoral degrees in nursing. The grant was intended to increase the number of Nursing educators to help address the national nursing shortage. Nursing professors Jody Spiess and Stephanie Dribben completed doctoral degrees in December 2020 through this grant.

The WATTS grant is supported through NSF award #2129966.

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