Choose Ohio First grant awarded to Kent State; four STEM programs added

Lique Coolen is a neuroscience professor and the associate dean for the College of Arts & Sciences. Coolen has studied neuroscience for 26 years, focusing in areas of research like reproduction. Courtesy of Kent State University 

Kelly Krabill Reporter

Kent State has been awarded $3.5 million from the Choose Ohio First grant to support students in STEM-related majors. 

First-time students studying science, technology, engineering, mathematics or medicine have the opportunity to apply for a four-year scholarship through the grant. 

Kent State will receive $3,521,900, which will be divided between two grants.  

The fiscal year 2021 Choose Ohio First grant will provide $1,144,000 over five years to recruit and support each recipient, and the fiscal year 2016 completion grant will award $2,377,900 for a four-year program to support previously recruited and enrolled Choose Ohio First scholars to complete their degree, according to the press release. 

“[The grant] makes [college] affordable and accessible. So, [it’s] really for the people who have financial needs and are in areas of underserved populations,” said Lique Coolen, a professor and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences who led the 2021 Choose Ohio First grant process at Kent State. 

Within the STEM majors, the areas of study included in the grant are: 

  • Mathematics and computer sciences

  • Chemistry, biochemistry and physics

  • Bioengineering and life sciences 

  • Mathematics and life sciences at the Stark Campus

Four new programs are included in the grant:

  • Aeronautics and engineering

  • Environmental sciences and neuroscience 

  • Engineering technology at the Tuscarawas Campus 

“It’s a tremendous opportunity that the program is to support STEM and interactions between students who want STEM careers,” said Michael Fisch, an associate professor of the College of Aeronautics and Engineering. 

Students in Tuscarawas County may benefit differently from the program. 

“Our campus happens to be in Appalachia, [so] we deal a lot with rural poverty, which is a little different than urban poverty. … There is a lot of manufacturing, and we have worked closely with the manufacturing in the area to augment our degree,” said Paul Dykshoorn, the director of the Engineering Technology Department at the Tuscarawas Campus. 

The program has also been drawing students who are a part of the significant Hispanic population the region has, Dykshoorn said. 

Eight programs are included in the grant, but Coolen and her team will work as one unit across all the campuses to conduct outreach and recruitment for scholarship applicants as early as fall for the 2022 academic year. 

Coolen doesn’t know how many applicants will be admitted as Choose Ohio First scholars, but she hopes around 40 students will be admitted per year during the five-year recruitment period, she said. 

The 2016 Choose Ohio First grant has around 203 students studying under the STEM majors at Kent State. 

Along with 2016, the university was also a recipient in 2008 and 2019

The latest grant is part of a program that began in 2008 as a way to increase the number of Ohio residents successfully completing STEM majors at Ohio’s public and private colleges and universities, according to the press release

Kent State was awarded the next grant in 2016 for five years to recruit and support each student. The grant included mathematics and computer sciences, chemistry, biochemistry and physics, bioengineering and life sciences and mathematics and life sciences at the Stark Campus, according to the press release.

The 2016 scholars can benefit from the latest award as they work toward completing their degree.

The Stark Campus saw an increase of enrollment for three programs after the university received the 2016 grant. The campus opened a new science and nursing building, which helped recruit new students, said Bathi Kasturiarachi, an associate professor of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the Stark Campus.

“We saw an increase in the biology major, for example, and geology as well and in nursing, so this [2016] grant really helped us to recruit students for those three programs,” Kasturiarachi said. 

The 2016 grant also helped recruit first-generation students.

“For the recruitment of first-generation students, I think this grant was very helpful in 2016,” Kasturiarachi said. 

Three years after receiving the grant, the university received a grant for just computer sciences in 2019. The length of the grant was also for five years to recruit and support each scholar.

While students benefit from the awards, the Choose Ohio First grant has certain criteria for accepted scholars. 

Students must be Ohio residents or returning to Ohio for college as well as first-time students at Kent State, which includes transfer students, Coolen said.

After students are admitted to the university and then accepted as scholar recipients, they must meet specific requirements. They are to attend weekly meetings and events where guest speakers are invited to talk about STEM-related topics. 

“There is a lot of mentoring and interactions with the students,” Fisch said. “There’s a very strong commitment for student success.”

Students also attend research days where they showcase their teams’ project in a conference with other Choose Ohio First universities. The students work together on a project with at least two other students, and they present the finished project at the event.

Freshman Parker Higgins, a computer science major and scholarship recipient of the 2019 computer sciences grant, recently attended the virtual poster conference on April 25. He and his team of two other scholars presented a “smart trash can, educational robot,” which was created to look like a green dinosaur for children. They were chosen as one of the winning teams at the conference of 400 students from Kent State and other universities in Ohio.

“We developed a trash can robot to teach younger kids about recycling. … We prepared for it and worked hard on it, but it was definitely a different idea,” Higgins said.

The smart trash can was more about the idea and the thought process rather than the robot itself, Higgins said.

Choose Ohio First scholars will also participate in a poster competition in Columbus later this year.

Scholars are given additional opportunities as well. As early as their freshman year, students are connected with work-based learning, such as internships.

By attending the weekly meetings, Higgins was introduced to the Digital Leadership Academy, which links students to internships. He applied at the Telecommunications Network Team on Kent’s campus and he has been interning there this semester.

“I got to work hands-on with real staff for the network team and the IT department,” he said. “During the summer, I’m going to be working on the project management team to work on some software for the campus. So, I got to have a job already, and I already have almost two internships under my belt through large IT operations on campus as a freshman.”

Along with campus internships, the university partners with Ohio companies to hire student interns and to prepare them for the workforce.

“[There’s] an important connection to businesses,” Fisch said. “They want this to help businesses in Ohio who actually have a shortage in STEM discipline people to thrive and to be more profitable.”

Kelly Krabill covers administration. Contact her at [email protected]