Erin Hardin receives NSF Grant
Erin Hardin is the Lead PI for a recently awarded 5-year $2.9 million dollar NSF grant project, entitled "Collaborative Research: ASPIRE: Appalachian Students Promoting the Integration of Research in Education”. This is an exciting project that will have substantial impact on our local community as well as broader implications for first generation college students everywhere.
Here is a summary of the project:
The ASPIRE project will create a comprehensive recruitment and support pipeline for rural Appalachian students from financially distressed and at-risk regions of Tennessee to pursue STEM degrees at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) or the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (UTC). The goal is to increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation of low-income, academically talented Appalachian students by implementing and evaluating evidence-based support services. By targeting this population, the project will focus on a group that represents nearly half of all Tennessee residents but who are underrepresented at UTK and UTC due to financial constraints and limited college-level supports. Research shows that financial support alone is not enough; first-generation college students from rural Appalachia are challenged by an interrelated web of financial, sociocultural, and academic barriers that can lead to diminished engagement, success, and retention. ASPIRE will address all of these barriers and expand on the successes of prior NSF support and the effective services and high-impact educational practices that already target other underrepresented populations at UTK and UTC. Specifically, ASPIRE will provide four-year scholarships to a total of 80 students (two cohorts of 20 students at each campus) to pursue Arts & Sciences STEM degrees (biological sciences, chemistry, physics, mathematics, geography, geology, and environmental studies). Students will be recruited through UTK’s existing NIH-funded project designed to increase interest in post-secondary education in general, and in STEM in particular. This projects works with three high schools in economically distressed / at-risk counties in East Tennessee. In addition, students will be recruited via connections through the Appalachian Regional Commission. Persistence and graduation rates are expected to exceed institutional averages due to the extensive supports that will be provided. Specifically, scholarship students on each campus will live in research-focused Living Learning Communities, engage in mentored research, participate as a cohort in course-based academic transition seminars, and have access to and support for career-building summer research fellowships. Targeted activities and workshops for students’ families will also be offered to increase familial support and information. Finally, scholarship students on the much larger Knoxville campus will also engage with the new Appalachian Mentoring Program (AMP), tapping doctoral students who can provide support across social, academic, and career-related domains.