Path Program Wins NSF Support

By Samantha Kirby

“Path to Graduation is an important first step in training the next generation of scientists and engineers from throughout the state and beyond.” ~ Lynda Coon

Professor Paul Adams. Photo: Russell Cothren

As a boy, Paul Adams played with chemistry sets, and his bedroom walls were papered with periodic charts. But despite this early immersion in the world of science, he didn’t consider pursuing a career in research until his first year of medical school. “I’m not from a rural area or underprivileged background, but STEM disciplines were not discussed in my home or in my community as a potential career option,” Adams recalled.

A desire to share scientific research with students who may be unfamiliar with the practice is what motivated Adams to direct our new Path to Graduation Program, which aims to increase the number of low-income students, especially those from rural regions of Arkansas, who graduate with a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Last year, the National Science Foundation awarded nearly $1 million ($999,847, to be exact) in grant funding for the Path to Graduation Program, which will support two groups of 18 STEM students from freshman year through graduation.

The initiative will be an extension of the Honors College Path Program, which was established in 2014 to recruit exceptional high school students from underrepresented populations and help them excel here at the University of Arkansas. Path students are mentored throughout their four years on campus, and these collaborative efforts are paying off: more than 40 percent of Path students have joined the Honors College to date, and 100 percent of the first group donned their robes and mortarboards in May.

Honors-Path-Students

Photo: Whit Pruitt

Students will receive annually renewable scholarships of up to $4,500, or $5,500 if they participate in the Honors College. But that’s not all: they will also benefit from an in-residence summer bridge program, shared housing, on-campus or industry-based research opportunities, academic success advising, and faculty and peer mentoring.

For Adams, mentorship is an essential part of his job. During his 11 years at the university, he has mentored more than 70 students at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. “This program fits perfectly with my desire to continue to lift as I climb as an academic professional in a STEM discipline,” he said.

Xochitl Delgado Solorzano, director of the Path Program, attests to the benefits of this mentoring mindset, and she is excited to see it expand with Path to Graduation. “Thanks to the NSF grant we will be able to offer exceptional students individual attention to help them excel academically, socially and professionally,” she said. “The grant allows us to retain regional talent by exposing students to opportunities to grow and engage in the community.”

Lynda Coon, dean of the Honors College, is excited to see the impact of the Path to Graduation Program on student success. “We’ve historically had a high success rate with recruitment,” she said. “But this grant is a gamechanger. It will help us recruit – and retain – even more rock-star students. Path to Graduation is an important first step in training the next generation of scientists and engineers from throughout the state and beyond,” Dean Coon added. “This program will target those areas of Arkansas where there are many minority and first-generation students but few opportunities to pursue STEM education.”

Of course, not all of the students participating in the Path Program choose to focus their energies in STEM fields. Thanks to lead gifts from Honors College dean emeritus Bob McMath and his wife Linda, Nick and Carolyn Cole, and Lee and Beverly Bodenhamer, the Honors College to date has raised more than $450,000 to fund scholarships for Path students, a sum that will continue to provide support for Path students majoring in other fields.