Asee peer logo

STEM Scholars Engaging in Local Problems

Download Paper |


2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Esther Tian

visit author page

Jianghong (Esther) Tian is an Associate Professor and the Program Director of the Engineering Program at Eastern Mennonite University. She received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Virginia. Her research interests include neuronal control mechanism of animal locomotion and bio-inspired robotics, as well as engineering design education.

visit author page


Daniel Showalter

visit author page

Daniel Showalter received a BS in mathematics from Urbana University, an MS in mathematics from Ohio University, and a PhD in mathematics education from Ohio University. He currently serves as an Associate Professor of Mathematics at EMU in Harrisonburg, VA. Showalter has published on the intersection of mathematics and fields such as rural education, place-based education, adult basic education, music, and East Asia. He is a quantitative analyst for the Rural School and Community Trust and coauthor of the textbook Advanced Quantitative Reasoning: Mathematics for the World Around Us.

visit author page


Tara Kishbaugh

visit author page

Dr. Tara L.S. Kishbaugh obtained her BS degree in chemistry from Wheaton College (IL) and her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Dartmouth College (NH). She is currently a professor of chemistry and Dean of Sciences, Engineering, Arts and Nursing at EMU (Va). Dr. Kishbaugh’s research interests include assessment of non-content learning in research projects, increasing student familiarity with and understanding of green chemistry, Sociocultural faculty development for diversity-responsive teaching, and heterocyclic synthesis, particularly indole based systems.

visit author page


Scott Barge

visit author page

Scott Barge, EdD, VP for Institutional Strategy and CIO for EMU earned a bachelor’s degree at Goshen College and both master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard University with an emphasis on quantitative methods for assessment and evaluation in higher education. During his graduate studies, he gained firsthand experience as a research analyst in the Institutional Research Office at MIT and through various domestic and international consulting projects. While at MIT, his dissertation research and collaborative research with institute colleagues focused on domain-specific self-efficacy in engineering entrepreneurship, and on the impact of project-based pedagogies on persistence in engineering among undergraduate students. He served as Director of Institutional Research at Goshen College for five years before coming to EMU in 2016.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Eastern Mennonite University received a 5-year S-STEM award for their STEM Scholars Engaging in Local Problems (SSELP) program. The goal of this place-based, interdisciplinary scholarship program is to increase the number of academically talented, low-income students who graduate in STEM fields and either pursue immediate employment in STEM careers or STEM-related service or continue their STEM education in graduate school.

In 2018 and 2019, two cohorts of seven students were recruited to major in biology, chemistry, engineering, computer science, mathematics, or environmental science. A key part of recruitment involved on-campus interviews, during a February Scholarship Day, between STEM faculty and potential scholars. As the yield rate for the event is high (54-66%), the university has continued this practice, funding additional STEM scholarships.

In order to retain and graduate the scholars in STEM fields, the SSELP faculty designed and carried out various projects and activities to support the students. The SSELP Scholars participated in a first-year STEM Career Practicum class, a one-credit course that connected students with regional STEM practitioners across a variety of fields. The scholars were supported by peer tutors embedded in STEM classes, and now many are tutors themselves. They participated in collaborative projects where the cohorts worked to identify and solve a problem or need in their community. The SSELP scholars were supported by both faculty and peer mentors. Each scholarship recipient was matched with a faculty mentor in addition to an academic advisor. A faculty mentor was in a related STEM field but typically not teaching the student. Each scholar was matched with a peer mentor (junior or senior) in their intended major of study. In addition, community building activities were implemented to provide a significant framework for interaction within the cohort.

To evaluate the progress of the SSELP program, multiple surveys were conducted. HERI/CIRP Freshman Survey was used in the fall of 2018 for the first cohort and 2019 for the second cohort. The survey indicated an upward shift in students’ perception of science and in making collaborative effort towards positive change. Preliminary data on the Science Motivation Questionnaire showed that the SSELP scholars began their university studies with lower averages than their non-SSELP STEM peers in almost every area of science motivation.

After over three years of implementation of the NSF-funded STEM Scholars Engaging in Local Problems program, the recruitment effort has grown significantly in STEM fields in the university. Within the two cohorts, the most common majors were environmental science and engineering. While 100% of Cohorts 1 and 2 students were retained into the Fall semester of the second year, two students from Cohort 1 left the program between the third and fourth semesters of their studies. While one student from Cohort 2 had a leave of absence, they have returned to continue their studies. The support system formed among the SSELP scholars and between the scholars and faculty has benefited the students in both their academic achievement as well as their personal growth.

Tian, E., & Showalter, D., & Kishbaugh, T., & Barge, S. (2022, August), STEM Scholars Engaging in Local Problems Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2022 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015