Collaborative STEM grant awarded for One Voice project

BNEDC Director of Marketing and Communications Zach Dietmeier speaks during the announcement of the NexSTEM grant at the McLean County Museum of History on Thursday, November 8, 2018. (photo by Jason Reblando/Illinois Wesleyan University)

(Bloomington, Ill.) - The National Science Foundation has awarded $4.6 million to a consortium comprised of Illinois Wesleyan University, Illinois State University and Heartland Community College to fund NexSTEM: A Community Assets Program that Fosters the Next Generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Leaders.

Over the five-year granting period, the three-school consortium will disburse nearly $2.8 million in scholarships and receive more than $1.8 million to involve the NexSTEM scholars in community-based research projects, to support the scholars’ classroom learning, to study new strategies for retaining students in STEM majors, and to keep the consortium running smoothly.

Nearly three years ago, the EDC’s annual One Voice advocacy trip to Washington D.C., helped open the conversation between local higher education and federal education officials for pursuing a new program to increase opportunities for students interested in STEM fields.

NexSTEM, which grew out of that initial exploratory conversation with the U.S. Department of Education, represents a collaborative effort between IWU, ISU and Heartland with local not-for-profit agencies to increase the recruitment and retention of talented, socio-economically underrepresented students in four-year STEM degree programs. NexSTEM recruitment efforts will focus on students from McLean County and the surrounding areas, but others are welcome to apply.

“From the start, the combined work of these institutions was extremely impressive - not only from a regional perspective but also nationally and internationally,” said Bloomington-Normal EDC Vice President and Interim CEO Mike O’Grady. “As a result of our collaborative One Voice Trip, NexSTEM will help empower local students to earn STEM degrees and, we hope, remain local to pursue employment in the STEM field. This is a victory for our local students, schools and employers.”

The program is built on the premise that its three institutions of higher education can generate a larger number of more successful STEM graduates by working together, and with community partners, than by working separately.

“The innovative and collaborative NexSTEM program will enable students to explore, pursue and complete STEM education that might otherwise seem financially out of reach,” said Illinois Wesleyan University President and EDC board member Eric Jensen. “NexSTEM students will be supported through a cross-campus mentoring network and engaged through participation in community-based research projects. The program will also foster inter-institutional cooperation that will greatly benefit faculty, students and the community.”

A major cornerstone of the Bloomington-Normal-McLean County and Central Illinois region is the nationally-recognized quality of our education system,” O’Grady said. “From highly-rated elementary schools to a county-wide graduation rate of 88.6% all the way up to the institutions for higher learning, we are consistently recognized for our ability to produce a highly-educated and professionally-trained workforce.”

The One Voice trip builds relationships between federal agencies and organizations and local governments, our educators, local labor, business, healthcare, and nonprofit entities. To date, the One Voice program has helped in securing over $33.5 million for our community needs.

By: Zach Dietmeier and John Twork

Published: November 9, 2018