The growth in biotechnology and its impact on agriculture has created a need for a highly trained workforce of graduate-level scientists. This S-STEM project at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) is addressing that need by offering scholarships and educational opportunities in biomolecular science to academically talented, financially eligible graduate students. The project focuses on nontraditional graduate students, identifying them as a demographic group that faces a number of road blocks (e.g., time, resources, and perceptions about limited career opportunities) that make it more difficult to pursue graduate degrees, particularly in the agricultural biosciences. The VT S-STEM program is providing scholarships of $10,000/year to each of fourteen graduate students, representing a total of 44 scholarship years. Students are being recruited through a number of existing programs at VT (for example, Graduate School programs, and MAOP, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Online Master's Program) and through websites and individual contact by faculty, and are selected for the S-STEM program based on academic ability, need, and interest. The scholars are being mentored by faculty in the Biochemistry and Entomology departments, many of whom were hired as part of a collaborative team for VT's biotechnology initiative. In addition to scholarships and academic training, the S-STEM scholars have opportunities for real-world experience through internships at two agricultural biotechnology companies. Scholars are also exposed to an extensive support system that provides personal and career development support to ensure their academic success and competitiveness for jobs in biotechnology. The project team is also assessing the degree to which their S-STEM program enhances academic and professional development and improves the appeal of agriculture as a career among nontraditional students. This graduate level S-STEM program complements an existing S-STEM project at the institution, which focuses on undergraduate biotechnology students.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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Gul Kremer
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United States
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