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News & Stories: 2008-09

ISRI awards scholarships to incoming students March 19, 2009

The Integrated Science Research Institute (ISRI) will award a total of $32,000 in scholarships to up to eight current and incoming students in 2009–2010 through a $581,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Randy PruimThe NSF Scientific Computation Scholarships will cultivate a cohort of Calvin students who take an interdisciplinary approach to studying science: “They have to be interested in pursuing a program that combines computation with science,” said ISRI director Randall Pruim.

Science plus computation

Some students who receive the scholarships will augment a scientific program in biology, chemistry, geology archeology, physics, astronomy, engineering, mathematics or statistics with a new minor in scientific computation and modeling. Others will major in computer science or information systems and specialize in scientific applications. Together these students and their faculty mentors will form a cohort of students applying computational tools and algorithms to scientific discovery.

"The folks at the National Science Foundation are interested in funding these things because it’s a national need,” said Pruim of integrating science with computation, “and we think Calvin is well positioned to meet the need. We’re very excited about the students and faculty who are interested in pursuing this at Calvin.”

Even more scholarship funding will be available in each of the next three years, he added: “By fall 2010, we should have roughly three times as many students supported by these NSF scholarships. In addition, we will be inviting other students who are interested in this program to join the cohort.”

The new scholarships are designed for high-achieving science students, but not necessarily those who are identified by typical markers. “We give these scholarships for students who can succeed in the program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a great standardized test-taker,” Pruim said.

Although the GPAs, SATs ACTs will factor into selection of recipients, other criteria will also be important, he said: “We’re looking for students who are curious, good at figuring things out, persistent, who work well in teams … We all know students that don’t stand out in the classroom in terms of grades but do stand out if you put them in a summer research experience—because that depends on a different set of skills.”

A number of those atypical achievers will be women and ethnic minority students, Pruim said: “Both Calvin and the NSF are interested in broadening the reach of programs to student groups that are underrepresented in the sciences. In computational areas, both women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented.”

The challenge with both groups, he stressed, is not capability or qualification, but interest. “So we need to make sure that we get the word out to them, and that we design our programs so that they can enjoy their studies and be successful.”

While almost all of the $581,000 is earmarked for scholarships, some of the money will fund student development opportunities such as travel to professional meetings, field trips, and team- building activities.

While some disciplines have been quicker than others to incorporate computation, Pruim said, it is increasingly the way scientists do science. Because of the integrative focus of its grant, Calvin stands out among the schools that applied for NSF funds: “Different schools applied in mathematics, engineering, physics,” Pruim said. “We’re unusual in that we applied for interdisciplinary science.”

~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing

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