A photo of a student working in a science lab with test tubes

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Northeastern Illinois University a five-year, $5 million Hispanic-Serving Institutions - Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (HSI - STEM) and Articulation Program grant to increase the number of students who complete STEM majors and contribute to diversifying the STEM workforce.

The senior personnel leading the grant at Northeastern are Acting Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Physics Sudha Srinivas, Director of the Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE) and Associate Professor of Earth Science Kenneth Voglesonger, and Project Director of Title III HSI STEM Grants Brittany Pines.

The grant will support the development of ARCOS: Advancing Research and Career Opportunities, a collaboration with Harold Washington College, that has four primary goals:

  • To increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students who attain STEM degrees.
  • Rework transfer degree and articulation agreements with Harold Washington College.
  • Implement programming, curricula and learning opportunities focused on STEM workforce development.
  • Build up student-focused service programs and infrastructure.
  • Develop and implement wrap-around services that specifically address the impacts of COVID-19 on students.

The project’s name is fitting; in Spanish, “arcos” translates to “arches” or “bridges.”   

“The idea is we are building bridges between students discovering what STEM careers are, building the skills they need to get those STEM careers, then providing them with the next bridge, which is actually being placed in a STEM career,” Voglesonger said. 

It also reflects the bridge between Harold Washington College and Northeastern. Through this program, students at Harold Washington who are part of ARCOS will be able to continue in the program if they pursue their four-year degree at Northeastern. Likewise, Northeastern is developing a reverse articulation agreement with Harold Washington College. This means students at Northeastern who have completed the requirements for an Associate of Science degree at Harold Washington, but are unable to continue to pursue their four-year degree, will be able to transfer their credits and earn their associate degree through Harold Washington College. 

“We worked very closely with Harold Washington College on this to develop pathways that go both ways,” Voglesonger said. “Harold Washington will be creating a new Associate of Science degree for students who are STEM interested, but are undecided about their specific major. Those credits will be applicable to a wide variety of STEM majors at NEIU.”

Through summer STEM Academies, students will have research opportunities to focus on developing community and area-relevant research projects while working with Northeastern and Harold Washington College faculty. Students will also be able to participate in STEM Pathways Seminars to identify STEM careers that are relevant and important to them. The seminars will take place in three parts: Introduction to STEM Careers, Building a STEM Career and How to Get a STEM Career. 

Students will also have the chance to intern with industry partners, such as Argonne National Laboratory, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago, Aerotek, Current, the Illinois Association of Environmental Professionals, Friends of the Chicago River, Regis Technologies, and IIT-Corp.  

Over the course of the five-year grant, the project will provide a total of 56 full-time internships and approximately 90 students will participate in Summer STEM Academies, with more than 200 students participating in the STEM Pathways Seminars.    

Harold Washington College will also be developing a STEM Student Center, modeled after Northeastern's SCSE, which has consistently strived to make STEM opportunities more accessible to all students, especially those who’ve historically been excluded from higher education and STEM careers. 

“In addition to this program being the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do,” Srinivas said. “There’s research on how teams solve very complicated problems. The research shows that diverse teams solve problems better and more efficiently than teams that are very homogeneous.” 

This is the third HSI STEM grant Northeastern has received. The first helped develop the SCSE and the second helped develop the Exit On Time in STEM (ÉXITO) project. Prior to the development of the SCSE, one in 10 students at Northeastern were STEM majors and approximately 14% of STEM degrees were awarded to historically underrepresented students. Today, Northeastern awards approximately 35% of STEM degrees to students who have been historically underrepresented in STEM disciplines, and nearly 800 students have participated in SCSE summer research projects since 2009.

“An overall goal of this grant is to increase the number of Hispanic/Latina/Latino/Latinx students who graduate with a STEM degree,” Pines said. “The relationship between NEIU and Harold Washington College has been built upon collaboration which fosters an environment of authenticity and true partnership. This then provides coordinated opportunities to support students, whether at a two-year or four-year institution, and allows students to build connections, opening up multiple pathways for them to see themselves as doers of STEM.”

Northeastern is regarded as one of the most diverse Midwest public regional universities and is designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The University has an enrollment of over 6,000 students and offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate programs in the arts, sciences, education and business. ARCOS will involve collaboration of faculty across the STEM disciplines and will result in the creation of a new Data Science and STEM Communication minor at Northeastern.  

“If we don’t create a diverse STEM workforce, we’re missing out on talent, we’re missing out on skilled scientists and researchers; we’re handicapping ourselves if we don’t do that,” Voglesonger said. “At NEIU, we’ve shown that when we work with a diverse group of students, they go on to have great success. They perform extremely well in our summer research program, they go on to excellent jobs, excellent graduate careers. They prove the point that by not having groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM fields, it’s a lose-lose because people are missing out.”