Fisher to Expand Support for Students in STEM Fields

September 28, 2020

St. John Fisher College will create a new student support program for underrepresented minority or economically disadvantaged undergraduates studying STEM fields, thanks to a $400,000 grant from the New York State Education Department’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP).

Banners on a wall in the Integrated Science and Health Sciences Building showcases the many disciplines students can explore at Fisher.

The grant—which comes on the heels of $1.3 million in funding from the federal government to create a similar program for students who are low-income, first generation, or have disabilities—adds to a host of cohort-based support systems at Fisher designed to increase students’ academic success, retention, and graduation. It was secured in a collaboration between the College’s Center for Career and Academic Planning, Office of Sponsored Programs, and the Provost’s Office.

“We know the support programs at Fisher work—they produce excellent retention and completion rates—this recognition by New York, and by the federal government, shows that they believe in what we’re doing to support our students,” said Dr. Michelle Erklenz-Watts, director of academic student support, who will serve as the principle investigator on the grant. “These programs create small communities within our larger one to help students move and grow. The more students we can catch in our support net, the more we can help realize their academic and professional goals.”

The C-STEP program at Fisher will serve historically underrepresented and/or economically disadvantaged students who have career interest in STEM fields, or majors that can lead to licensure as a mental health counselor, certified public accountant, or actuary, among others. The College hopes to support 40 students among the four class levels over a period of five years.

This fall, the College hired Tyana Velazquez-Smith to serve as the CSTEP program director. A graduate of the College, Velazquez-Smith was an active member of campus. She was a First Generation Scholar, diversity senator for the Student Government Association, and studied abroad in Costa Rica, among other activities. Her familiarity with the Fisher community and dedication to equity, diversity, and inclusion will allow her to build relationships with CSTEP students and effectively lead them through the different services and activities available during their time in the program.

“I am humbly honored to serve as the CSTEP program director for St. John Fisher College. As a Fisher alumna, a first-generation scholar, and a woman of color, it brings me great joy to support historically underrepresented student populations in STEM fields,” said Velazquez-Smith. “With the support of the Fisher family, CSTEP will curate space and resources that provide equitable access to academic and professional opportunities to ensure all students thrive in STEM fields.”

Among the resources available to CSTEP students are peer and faculty academic support, one-on-one intensive guidance counseling, and Student Success Workshops through the Writing and Math Centers. Students will also benefit from collaborations with support and scholarship programs that share similar objectives, including New York-funded Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program; National Science Foundation-funded Noyce Scholarship and S-STEM programs; and Fisher’s First Generation Scholars, among others.

The College has formed new partnerships with the Monroe County Workforce Development Agency and the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and leveraged existing relationships with The Children’s Institute and Rochester City School District to provide CSTEP students with opportunities for experiential learning in the form of internships, fieldwork placements, career shadowing, and mentorship. Fisher’s director of career services will also offer workshops specifically for CSTEP students that explore experiential opportunities targeting underrepresented students.

Another important aspect of the CSTEP program is financial support for students to participate in professional development opportunities and career advancement. CSTEP students will receive funds to help offset licensure or graduate entrance exam fees, and travel to scholarly conferences. CSTEP funding will support up to five rising junior or senior CSTEP students in the College’s Summer Fellows Research Program, providing for a student stipend, research supplies, and posters for presentations.

“These opportunities for professional development will facilitate student retention and graduation by giving students insight into their career pathway and confidence that they will graduate well prepared to enter the workforce,” said Erklenz-Watts.

The opinions, results, findings and/or interpretations of data contained therein are the responsibility of St. John Fisher College and do not necessarily represent the opinions, interpretations or policy of the State of New York.