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Building STEM capacity

University wins $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to prepare more women for careers in science, tech, engineering and math.

August 8, 2018

Mount Saint Mary's $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable more students to thrive in STEM studies.
Mount Saint Mary's $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable more students to thrive in STEM studies.

LOS ANGELES (Aug. 8, 2018) — Mount Saint Mary’s University has received a five-year, $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions” program. The prestigious grant — one of 31 supplied by the NSF nationwide, totaling $45 million in support — will supply the University with funding to build capacity and increase retention and graduation rates for students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The funding will also help the Mount provide more academic support services and increase the number of STEM students participating in research on campus, accessing summer internships and going on to grad school in a STEM field. 

Mount Saint Mary’s winning grant proposal, “Building Capacity of Women in STEM,” was led by Jen Chotiner, PhD, chair of biological sciences, and Xiaomei Cheng, PhD, pre-health sciences, biology program director. They are supported by Paul Lee, PhD, assistant professor of physical sciences, and Lance Skidmore, PhD, chair of mathematics.

"This is an immense honor for the Mount and the sciences," Chotiner says. "The Building Capacity grant will have a very real impact on our student achievements both in the classroom and out in the world as professional women in STEM. It will help us to lay solid foundations in science and math, while also providing our students the tools and skills to build off those foundations on their paths toward success."

The NSF grant was created specifically to support universities that qualify as Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI). According to the NSF, Hispanics constitute 16 percent of the U.S. workforce, but make up only 6 percent of the country's science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce. 

"NSF has a long history of funding individual researchers and projects at HSIs," says Jim Lewis, acting NSF assistant director for education and human resources. "This new program seeks to support growth at HSIs that have traditionally lacked federal resources, to assure that they can encourage the development of scientists and engineers."

The U.S. Congress has directed the NSF to award grants to HSI. As a result, NSF has built on decades of collaborative work with the broader community as well as lawmakers to find ways to improve the quality of undergraduate STEM education at HSIs.

In the Mount’s grant proposal, the project’s potential impacts are noted: “[This project] seeks to increase the number of Hispanic students, specifically Hispanic women, participating in research, graduating with STEM degrees, enrolling in graduate school and entering high-demand STEM positions, thus improving American economic competitiveness. The more women and Hispanics attending graduate school and entering the STEM workforce, the more future students will have role models and diverse networking relationships.”

This is the fourth NSF grant that Mount Saint Mary’s STEM faculty have earned in recent years. The three previous grants include:

  • A three-year $200,000 collaborative grant with the University of Southern California to provide MSMU students access to experiential learning and research opportunities at USC’s Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island, along with peer mentoring and exposure to geoscience and environmental science graduate school and career options. Lead faculty: Adriane Jones, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences; Xiaomei Cheng, PhD, pre-health sciences, biology program director, and associate professor of biological sciences.

  • A four-year, $650,000 grant from the NSF’s S-STEM program that is helping the Mount provide scholarships and retention support to students majoring in biology, biochemistry, chemistry and mathematics. Lead faculty: Afsane Arvand, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences; Carol Johnston, PhD, chair of education; Suzanne Markoe-Hayes, PhD, instructor of psychology; and Michele Starkey, EdD, assistant provost and professor of mathematics.
  • A five-year, $1.2 million grant from the NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which provides scholarship funding, as well as curricular and co-curricular support, for STEM majors who commit to earning their teaching credentials and becoming K-12 mathematics and science teachers in high-need schools. Lead faculty: Carol Johnston, PhD, chair of education; Irma Ravkic, PhD, assistant professor of physical sciences and mathematics.

To learn more about STEM studies at the Mount, visit To learn more about this NSF grant, read the full NSF news release online.

About Mount Saint Mary’s University
Mount Saint Mary’s is the only women’s university in Los Angeles and one of the most diverse in the nation. The University is known nationally for its research on gender equity, its innovative health and science programs, and its commitment to community service. As a leading liberal arts institution, Mount Saint Mary’s provides year-round, flexible and online programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. Weekend, evening and graduate programs are offered to both women and men. Mount alums are engaged, active, global citizens who use their knowledge and skills to better themselves, their communities and the world.

About the National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.