TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama has received a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a bridge program for students from three Historically Black Colleges and Universities interested in opportunities in renewable energy.
The UA Graduate School’s Strategic Graduate Partnerships Initiative and department of chemistry and biochemistry, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, worked together to develop the program that partners with Stillman College, Fort Valley State University and Jackson State University to prepare undergraduate students for graduate programs, industry careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in renewable energy. The five-year project was awarded through the NSF’s Bridging Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, Communities, also known as RII-BEC.
“RII-BEC is a very prestigious award that will empower us with lots of research and education resources in the next five years to enhance students’ learning and research experience,” said Dr. Shanlin Pan, professor of chemistry and project principal investigator. “Projects like this will make UA a more attractive place for participants to continue pursuing advanced degrees.”
Project goals include enhancing the competitiveness of HBCU student participants as applicants to graduate programs, preparing participants for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, workforce by reinforcing hands-on lab experiences that were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and providing students with content knowledge, skills, experiences and confidence to engage in entrepreneurial pursuits in the STEM arena. Bridge program activities will take place through resident summer programs at UA as well as student exchanges between UA and Stillman students during the academic year.
“Participants will receive outstanding hands-on lab training and be engaged in summer research activities related to clean energy and materials science,” said Pan. “They will also have access to our state-of-the-art teaching and research facilities to build more than sufficient knowledge and skills for future graduate school study and the energy industry.”
The program will sponsor nine undergraduate students from Stillman, Fort Valley State and Jackson State each summer of the five-year project by providing stipends, on-campus housing and travel expenses. In addition, it is estimated that 70 Stillman students will participate in exchange activities each year during the fall and spring semesters.
“This NSF award represents a significant accomplishment for UA,” said Dr. Emmett Lodree, director of the UA Graduate School’s Strategic Graduate Partnerships. “It really moves the needle forward with regard to UA’s strategic efforts to cultivate partnerships with bachelor’s and/or minority-serving institutions, particularly HBCUs in the southeast.
“Recently, the Graduate School launched its Strategic Graduate Partnerships Initiative to coordinate these efforts and has since facilitated the renewal of a 50-year-old institutional agreement with Stillman College. This award further solidifies the institutional agreement between UA and Stillman, and represents a promising future of mutually beneficial collaboration between the two institutions. The NSF award also enriches UA’s relationships with Fort Valley State University and Jackson State University.”
Program leaders envision participants will gain the experience and confidence needed to successfully compete nationally and internationally for advanced degrees and to join the energy industry workforce.