Higher Education, Lakeshore, and Sustainability

College receives $3M gift for 'residential' STEM program

December 5, 2014
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College receives $3M gift for 'residential' STEM program
Hope College students Kyle Alexander ’13 and Lauren Zandstra ’12 collect Macatawa watershed sediment samples. Courtesy Hope College

College students living in the same residence hall will conduct research on the Macatawa watershed together next fall as part of a new STEM program funded by a Michigan foundation's $3-million gift.

Hope College said this week that the development of a STEM Scholars program focused on improving the Macatawa watershed will be endowed "in perpetuity" by the gift from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation of Midland.

John Knapp, president of Hope College, said Hope has long been recognized for preparing leaders in the natural and applied sciences, which is in part due to the opportunities for undergraduates to conduct scientific research in a real-world context.

“The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation’s transformative gift will benefit Hope students for generations to come,” Knapp said. “The focused and nurturing learning community provided by the STEM Scholars program will build on that tradition, enhance student success through all four years of college and help meet the nation’s need for highly qualified professionals in STEM fields.”

The $3 million gift is expected to fund the program indefinitely as a new cohort is welcomed each year. The foundation has made a number of major endowment gifts to Hope College over the years, including funding for the Van Wylen Library, Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Health and Physical Education Center, A. Paul Schaap Science Center, and for student research opportunities.

Mike Whitling, president of the Dow Foundation, said the organization is pleased to support the Hope College STEM Scholars program, which complements the foundation’s mission to promote innovative research and applied science.

“Educational opportunities that engage students in addressing real-world problems using their STEM knowledge and skills will not only motivate students to study science, engineering and mathematics, but will prepare them to pursue STEM careers, creating economic and social benefits for our state, region, and nation,” said Whitling.

Welcoming an inaugural class of 24 freshmen in fall 2015, the STEM program has a residence-based approach in which students will live in the same residence hall, work on socially relevant research projects, and share classes as a cohort. During the first year of study, students will enroll in an interdisciplinary seminar and research course focused on the Macatawa watershed, study the impact of human development, and work with STEM professionals and regional community members.

Students within the new STEM Scholars program will also continue to work with Project Clarity, which is a community initiative launched in November 2012 to clean, restore, and maintain the water and wetlands. Hope College has a history of working with Project Clarity by providing research support, while faculty members have conducted research-related efforts on the Macatawa watershed for more than 15 years.

Catherine Mader, inaugural director of the STEM Scholars program, said the partnership with Project Clarity and the focus on the Macatawa watershed are an ideal fit and will grant students the opportunity to see the relevance of what they are studying on a daily basis.

“A lot of students don’t persist in STEM because they don’t see the real-world implications of what they’re studying,” said Mader. “Another reason we chose to focus on Project Clarity is this issue needs experts in many disciplines studying the problems and designing solutions. We’re going to be pulling the students’ entire liberal arts education into what they’re doing.”

Dick DeVos, co-chair for Project Clarity, said he is excited the college is expanding its collaboration with the initiative with the new program.

“The team’s findings will benefit the watershed and help discover solutions for our community’s valuable natural resources,” DeVos said.

As the STEM Scholars advance through the program and curriculum, they will have the opportunity to participate in a summer research or course-based project with faculty members during a May term, intern at a number of local organizations, or participate in outreach programs at local K-12 schools.

The students will also continue to participate in research and mentor new students as they become upperclassmen. The program will build on research conducted by Hope College faculty members Graham Peaslee, professor of chemistry and environmental science, and Aaron Best, associate professor of genetics and biology.

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