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CSB receives $600,000 grant from National Science Foundation

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December 21, 2009

The College of Saint Benedict has received a $599,950 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help attract, retain and graduate more women in mathematics, physics and computer science.

The grant, the largest awarded from the NSF to CSB, runs from Aug. 1, 2010, to July 31, 2015.

"This is a tremendous accomplishment in CSB history, and I am deeply grateful to the faculty members in computer science, physics and mathematics who worked especially hard to make this happen," said CSB President MaryAnn Baenninger. "This grant will allow us to continue our focus on providing exceptional opportunities and accessibility to women in these disciplines."

The grant will continue and enhance a program called MapCores (Math, Physics, Computer Science Research Scholars), which was started in the fall of 2009 by faculty at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University. The program blends scholarships, curricular refinements, monitoring and support activities designed to attract, retain and graduate more women in these disciplines.

Twelve women enrolled in the pilot cohort in the fall of 2009, with those program costs supported by CSB.

The NSF grant will allow women with financial needs who enroll in the 2010 and 2011 cohorts to be given financial support for four years. CSB anticipates that 16 women will be in each year's cohort.

The objectives of the MapCores program are:

  • Increase women's participation in the fields of mathematics, physics and computer science;
  • Include and mentor more women as members of the scientific community;
  • Strengthen women's academic confidence and interest in targeted disciplines.

Each cohort will start by taking a specially designed First Year Seminar emphasizing critical thinking, discussion, oral presentation, information literacy and research skills. Students will take a problem-solving seminar each semester of their second year, and a research seminar each semester of their third year. They will then complete a senior thesis or project in collaboration with a faculty member in their final year. Students will be encouraged to take part in summer research experiences after their second or third years.

The grant is under the direction of Kris Nairn, associate professor of mathematics at CSB and SJU; Jim Crumley, associate professor of physics at CSB and SJU; Lynn Ziegler, professor of computer science at CSB and SJU; Pam Bacon, associate professor of psychology at CSB and SJU; and Sarah Yost, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at CSB and SJU.

"Now more than ever, our country needs more scientists and mathematicians," said Nairn, the principal investigator of the grant. "We cannot afford to discourage more than half of our college student population from studying in these areas. We need to find ways to keep interested and able women studying these subjects.

"We think that one way to keep women in mathematics and science is to expose them to current topics in science early in their college careers and then get them involved in research as early as possible. This program has given us the opportunity to try out these ideas. So far, they seem to be working," Nairn said.