BridgeValley STEM Scholars Program
for Engineering and Applied Technology Majors to Increase Enrollment and Retention
BridgeValley Community and Technical College (BVCTC) located in south-central West Virginia, was awarded a NSF S-STEM (NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) 5-year grant in 2013 to establish a STEM Scholars program to increase: the annual, full-time enrollment of engineering technology and applied technology majors, the retention of and degree completion rates of participating STEM majors, and the number of graduated STEM Scholars who become employed in their field or continue their education.
BridgeValley Community and Technical College has undergone many changes since the initial award of the NSF S-STEM grant. BVCTC was founded on March 20, 2014 after the consolidation of Bridgemont and Kanawha Valley Community and Technical Colleges. Existing campus locations will be maintained in Montgomery and South Charleston, along with the addition of the new Advanced Technology Center. BridgeValley awards one-year certificates and two-year associate degrees in many fields including civil, mechanical and electrical engineering technology, business and health management, nursing, dental hygiene, business technology, medical assisting, diesel technology, computer information technology, and welding.
The consolidation of the two community colleges increased the overall headcount and majors available, and also increased the service area. The school grew to have two campuses approximately 30 miles apart. The students in the majors served by the STEM Scholars program are now located on both campuses with the Montgomery campus maintaining the accredited engineering technology programs, while the South Charleston campus primarily hosts the applied technology degrees.
The development of BridgeValley brought many additions and challenges to the STEM Scholars Program. The service area has grown but the overall demographics of the students served is generally consistent. The original surveys and research produced data that showed the demographics of the students served by BVCTC to be disadvantaged, come from low-income families in West Virginia, require financial assistance, and require developmental courses upon enrollment. A grant research survey conducted in 2012 showed that 84% of students received financial aid, 55% stated that a lack of funding delayed progress toward a college education, and 88% expressed concern over having sufficient funds for college. Over 60% of students indicated that they work an average of 27 hours per week to supplement their income for college. This data aided in the creation of BVCTC’s STEM Scholars program to address issues of retention and enrollment in the engineering technology and applied technology programs.
The region served by BVCTC primarily attracts rural students who commute. Originally many of the students come from disadvantaged communities with on average 43% of the students considered are low-income, and over 65% of entering students require developmental (pre-college level) courses. Over 76% of students require financial assistance. Many students are the first in their families to attend college.
The STEM Scholars Program awards are based on academic achievement and qualification for financial aid. The amount of the award is such that the student should have the supplemental funding needed so that academics can be a priority over part-time employment. Employment outside of the academic semesters is encouraged in the form of internships in field.
The STEM Scholars Program at BridgeValley incorporates academic and collaborative support in addition to financial support. The program originally targeted nine majors for inclusion in the STEM Scholars program. All of these majors are within the Technology Division with five of them being Associate of Science degrees, and four are Associate of Applied Science degrees. Since the award of the grant two of the majors have been discontinued at the college: Computer-Aided Drafting and Design and Blasting Technology. Both were low enrollment programs. One of the STEM programs has expanded. The Information Technology program is now the Network Engineering Technology program with the additional majors such as Cyber Security, Computer Science Technology, and Web Design.
The first cohort of students (10) were awarded STEM Scholars scholarships in the 2014-15 academic year. Twenty-one students were awarded during the 2015-16 academic year, with nine of those being retained from the first cohort. Fall 2015 enrollment in the STEM majors was 222 students. This was an increase from 199 students in the fall of 2014. Over 50% of the STEM Scholars applicants do not qualify for the program based on financial need according to the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), or because they are not in an approved STEM major.
Just over $47,000 was awarded in scholarship funds to the STEM Scholars in 2014-15. With both freshman and sophomore cohorts in place, over $109,000 was awarded in the 2015-16 academic year. The average award was approximately $5,000 per student.
Many BVCTC students are below mastery of college level math and English. BVCTC has moved from a summer bridge program in these areas, to a collaborative class that places students in co-enrollment classes for support dependent on testing scores. This effort not only streamlines the courses offered, it gives the student the assistance needed to remain on a 2 year schedule to graduate.
Additional activities that are included in the STEM Scholars Program include access to student success centers for tutoring and counseling, and access to industry mentors. STEM Scholars are also offered career preparedness options, and opportunities for field experiences that expose students to multiple technical disciplines.
The STEM Scholars Program at BridgeValley will serve other programs and majors within the college by creating a model that supports the students academically and socially, in addition to financially. Through this model, and through outreach that strengthens partnerships between community colleges and area industries, the program meets the needs of many first-generation college students in the region and helps to create a more educated workforce in West Virginia.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.