A team of University of Florida and Miami Dade College faculty members has won a five-year, $1.7 million federal grant to expand a distance-education program enabling MDC students to earn a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from UF.
The grant was announced in August by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education. The grant is part of an NSF effort to increase the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates, known as the STEM Talent Expansion Program.
“We believe this program will allow students to become science graduates who otherwise would be unable to do so for financial or cultural reasons,” said Eric Triplett, principal investigator for the grant and chair of UF’s Microbiology and Cell Science Department, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “This is one of the very few science degrees available by distance education anywhere in the U.S. from a top research university.”
Launched last fall, the program is aimed at students from minority groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM disciplines. It’s based at MDC’s North Campus, where 90 percent of students are Hispanic or African- American.
With the distance ed option, students can attend UF without relocating to Gainesville, thereby reducing expenses and enabling students to maintain employment and personal responsibilities. These factors could improve retention, said Jennifer Drew, an instructor with the UF microbiology and cell science department and a co principal investigator.
Drew said the funding will help officials at both institutions improve the existing program by offering new features that may improve retention: scholarships, peer-to-peer tutoring, career mentoring and undergraduate research experiences.
Lecture classes are taught online, but students will do their lab work in person at MDC or one of several UF facilities in South Florida.
The program is open to all students, regardless of ethnicity, who have received an associate of arts degree from MDC and earned minimum grades in prerequisite courses. Beginning next fall, UF plans to offer a similar distance-ed program at community colleges across the state, Triplett said.
At MDC, officials look forward to the opportunities the grant presents, said Heather Belmont, dean of the School of Science.
“MDC and its School of Science are truly excited about NSF’s support of this innovative new way to attract more students into quality science programming,” Belmont said. “We look forward to working closely with UF to promote this partnership.”