Eastern Michigan University has received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation through the Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) initiative to create the Physics Scholars Program.

“Nationally, the shortage of physicists is well-documented,” said James Carroll, who leads EMU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Eastern Michigan was recently recognized as one of the top producers of physics majors in the country by the American Institute of Physics, and this grant builds on that recognition. The grant creates a new mechanism for recruiting outstanding high school students interested in physics to EMU, financially and academically supports these new students throughout their EMU careers, and culminates in the department substantially increasing the number of physics graduates per year.”

Currently, the department graduates seven to nine physics majors annually with limited scholarships and recruiting, Carroll said. With this grant, he anticipates the department graduating 14 physics majors per year.

Approximately $540,000 of the grant will go directly toward need-based scholarships of up to $10,000 per student per year. It is expected the grant will support seven to 10 students per cohort.

“This grant, as required by the National Science Foundation, is directly focused on supporting students, as evidenced by the fact that 90 percent of the money will go directly to student scholarships,” Carroll said.

The remaining money will be used to create and administer the Physics Scholars Program but also includes supporting student travel to conferences and, because of the computational nature of physics, will provide laptop computers to the scholars.

The criteria for the scholarships are: a student must be academically talented (defined as eligible for an EMU Education First or Presidential scholarship), interested in majoring in physics, maintain a 3.0 grade point average at EMU while progressing towards a degree in physics, have financial need greater than $2,500 and be a U.S citizen or naturalized citizen. The student must also earn a letter of recommendation from his or her high school physics or math teacher.

“When we assessed students in the physics program, we found that many of the students, who ultimately graduated from our program, didn’t come to EMU planning to be physics majors,” said Carroll. “They simply didn’t know about the physics program or physics as a career when they were freshmen. This grant will allow us to develop new physics majors from the very beginning of their EMU careers and provide them with the proper foundations needed to become physicists.”

The grant integrates processes in the admissions and financial aid offices, as well as capitalizes on three important building blocks that already exist at EMU.

“The $90 million new science building shows that EMU is committed to the sciences,” Carroll said. “The Creative Scientific Inquiry Experience demonstrated that EMU can create new courses to recruit and retain science majors, and the DUETSs (Developing Urban Education Teachers in STEM subjects) and McNair Scholarship programs demonstrate the ability to provide scholarships and support to science majors. This grant assembles all these building blocks to create a complete package, with the goal to become a sustainable and permanent part of what EMU does to recruit and produce physicists.”

The first cohort for the Physics Scholars Program will begin in fall 2011.

For additional information go to http://www.physics.emich.edu/.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All Rights Reserved.


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