While mathematics is often an entry point for students pursuing careers in STEM disciplines, it also can be a bottleneck that causes otherwise talented students to change their career paths. This is especially true of financially disadvantaged students.
The new Nebraska Math Scholars grant from the National Science Foundation aims to help alleviate this difficulty.
Led by Professor Richard Rebarber, the UNL Department of Mathematics was awarded the five-year, $600,000 grant in July 2011 to provide scholarships to financially disadvantaged students who major in mathematics at UNL.
"It can be quite challenging to be a mathematics major, and we're hoping that these scholarships can help clear a few roadblocks," said Rebarber, the principal investigator for the grant.
Co-PIs on the grant are Assistant Professor of Mathematics Carina Curto, Associate Professor of Mathematics Stephen Hartke, UNL Director of Admissions Amber Hunter, and Professor of Mathematics Gordon Woodward.
The program goals of Nebraska Math Scholars are to:
- Recruit financially disadvantaged students who might not be able to attend college, or commit fully to their academics, without a scholarship;
- Increase the number of mathematics students in groups that are historically underrepresented in mathematics;
- Create a supportive academic and social community for Nebraska Math Scholars; and
- Provide challenging educational opportunities and enhanced mentoring to help the scholars succeed, thereby increasing retention.
Nine scholarships were awarded for the 2011-2012 academic year. The students range from freshmen to seniors, hailing from Minnesota to Kansas. The program awards:
- 16 three-year scholarships, which target incoming students entering UNL as a result of program recruitment strategies;
- six two-year scholarships, which target qualified students who are already at UNL; and
- 10 one-year scholarships, which target advanced math majors within one or two years of graduation.
"The scholarship from Nebraska Math Scholars has enabled me to make connections with similarly motivated students and faculty, explore the career options available to me through mathematics, and understand what it means to be a Husker. As a freshman and one of the youngest Scholars, I have been able to learn the ropes of this university, so to speak, from the older students in the program," said Jesse Epperson, a scholarship recipient from Omaha.
The broader impact of Nebraska Math Scholars expects to increase the pipeline of talented students, especially in financially disadvantaged and underrepresented demographics, applying to graduate school or pursuing other careers in mathematics and other STEM disciplines and facilitate the development of a diverse mathematics and STEM community at UNL.