Being a full-time college student while trying to pay for school can be difficult. However, a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant is helping to reduce the costs for Fort Valley State University students pursuing a plant science degree in biotechnology.
The NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education awarded FVSU a $986,869 grant to recruit, retain and provide scholarship support for students in the plant science-biotechnology program. Dr. Sarwan Dhir, a FVSU plant biotechnology professor and director of the Center for Biotechnology, said the goal is to select and increase the enrollment and graduation rates of academically high-performing students who demonstrated financial need, particularly among first generation minority college students.
“We are so thankful to the National Science Foundation for this generous grant because it will afford so many Fort Valley State students in the plant science-biotechnology program to continue to develop as scholars and researchers without having to worry about the cost of their education,” said Jesse F. Kane, FVSU vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.
FVSU will offer the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program to eligible incoming first-year and transfer students in fall 2019. The grant will support 30-35 undergraduate students majoring in plant science-biotechnology. They will receive an annually renewable $4,200 scholarship for four years ($16,800 total) and must maintain required academic standards by the university and program.
Dhir said the NSF S-STEM Program initially started in 2006. “We are very excited that the new grant funding from NSF represents an outstanding opportunity for FVSU’s Plant Science-Biotechnology Program to select motivated students to achieve academic, professional and personal success by working in close collaboration with STEM faculty,” he said.
Dr. T. Ramon Stuart, FVSU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, is the co-principal investigator for the NSF grant. “I am excited to learn that the NSF funded a third time such a useful project that reflects the true vision and commitment of Dr. Dhir and our university to support student development and success in the classroom and beyond,” he said. “The resources that we now have will allow our students to hone and develop skills to prepare them for future careers, and we are excited about the endless possibilities.”
Three FVSU students who received the scholarship in 2016 and 2017 are grateful that their tuition and books fees were the least of their worries. “This scholarship has allowed me the opportunity to be a full-time student. I don’t have to manage a job and school at the same time,” said Jordan Reid of Montezuma, Georgia.
The 19-year-old sophomore said FVSU’s Plant Science-Biotechnology Program supports students’ academic career. He looks forward to working with his uncle, who is a soil analyst in Tifton, Georgia, and eventually pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate in plant science.
Bacari Harris of Byron, Georgia, agreed that the scholarship takes away the financial stress. “It helps me financially with books and everyday living,” he said. The 22-year-old senior plans to attend physical therapy school. “I feel like this program has benefited me because I get the best of both worlds with biology and agriculture. It opens a lot of doors,” said Harris, who has an upcoming internship at the University of Missouri working with switchgrass in the plant science lab.
Junior Breonna Caldwell of Birmingham, Alabama, encourages other students to apply for the scholarship. “This program is really beneficial because it puts me a step ahead of other students. I have more insight of biology, plant science and biotechnology,” she said. The 21-year-old plans to attend dental school after graduation and is excited to participate in a summer internship at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Basic eligibility requirements for the NSF S-STEM Program include students seeking a bachelor’s degree, graduate school or career in the area of plant science-biotechnology and maintaining an overall grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Other requirements include showing strong academic potential or ability, demonstrating financial need as defined by the U.S. Department of Education and being a U.S. citizen.
In addition, eligible students must fully participate in the program enrichment activities such as guest speaker seminars, workshops, events at the campus level and community outreach activities. Recipients also must be willing to participate in internships that reflect their academic goals.
Former scholarship recipients currently have careers as medical professionals, science teachers, environmental specialists, biological science technicians and soil conservationists.
The submission of this grant was a collaborative effort involving professor Seema Dhir and Drs. Melinda Davis, Celia Dodd, Naghedolfeizi Masoud and Komanduri S. Murty with FVSU’s College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Rebecca C. McMullen with FVSU’s College of Education; and Drs. Jacques Surrency and Curtis Borne with FVSU’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology.
To apply for the NSF S-STEM Program, contact Dhir at (478) 822-1057 or firstname.lastname@example.org.