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Impact of Scholarships and Academic/Career Development
Activities on the Success of Undergraduate Students
Elsa M. Castillo1, Joel Robinson2, Kristine Denman2, Anyssa Choy1, Tariq Khraishi3
1Engineering Student Success Center, University of New Mexico, USA
2Statistical Analysis Center, University of New Mexico, USA
3Mechanical Engineering Department, University of New Mexico, USA
A program funded by the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) to support student
scholarships for undergraduate engineering/computer science students was conducted at the
University of New Mexico. The scholarship program involved elements such as faculty
mentoring, career development activities and financial support for each student scholar. In this
paper, the program details are furnished, and data on the positive impacts of such activities on
student academic success is presented. The myriad of activities covered by the program was
positively received by the student scholars.
The S-STEM (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) project
SCIREA Journal of Education
December 3, 2020
Volume 5, Issue 2, April 2020
(NSF Award ID 1458854) at the University of New Mexico (UNM) officially started awarding
scholarships in the Fall 2015. Funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation
(NSF), the S-STEM project at UNM focuses on retaining and graduating academically talented
undergraduate students (of low-income background), pursuing degrees in Computer Science or
Engineering at this institution. As established in the S-STEM program goals, students are selected
on the basis of financial need, academic merit, and potential for professional success.
The S-STEM program funds scholarships of up to $5,500 per student per academic year,
distributed equally over two semesters. Recent transfer students receive $4,000 per academic year.
This scholarship is renewable as long as the students continue to meet all eligibility requirements.
The program revolves around four Learning Communities (LCs)/Cohorts. The four LCs are: Bio-
Engineering, Green Technology/Renewable Energy, High-Tech Materials, and Aerospace
Engineering. The LC in each of these areas is composed of participating students and faculty
mentors with expertise in each of the above-mentioned fields.
This project has benefitted several engineering and computer science students at UNM and
allowed them to reduce the need to work to help pay for college. Research studies show that
financial aid impacts student engagement, as “students from low income families can be
academically underprepared for college level work and may not receive adequate information
about college that have the right fit or necessary supports. Students receiving aid may be able to
work less and instead spend time engaging with other people and experience outside the
classroom, potentially leading to higher course grades and higher rates of persistence and degree
completion” . Scholarships for community college students working towards associate degrees
in STEM have also been shown to improve outcomes . In the study by , it was found that
offering $1,000 of grant aid increases educational attainment by about 0.16 years and the
probability of attending college by four percentage points. The study by  found that four-year
renewable scholarships encourage student persistence in college; possibly because of relief from
financial concerns, mutual institution-student commitment, and a sense of responsibility that
accompanies honor and recognition, or a combination of these factors.
In addition to looking at the impact of financial awards in low-income, academically talented,
students of color, research shows that “academic and social behaviors such as course
performance, participation in extracurricular activities, and community service all function as
potential mechanisms for increasing college graduation rates”. Although GPA is also useful to
evaluate success, it is better to “understand the mechanisms by which aid may influence a
student’s academic experiences” . Student success beyond academics suggests that a series of
student success workshops and professional development experiences may offer additional
motivation to engineering students to remain persistent in their field of study “aid may go beyond
academics to non-academic experiences which may also be an important component of collegiate
success”. [5-8]. Indeed, undergraduate research experiences have been shown to increase the
likelihood of participants attaining a post-baccalaureate degree or working in STEM .
Additionally, meta-analyses have confirmed that faculty mentoring does improve retention and
graduation outcomes for undergraduates, although it is unclear whether this is true for students
enrolled in STEM fields specifically . Lastly, the recent work by , showed that faculty
mentoring, internships and professional conference participations improved student outcomes in
terms of retention and graduation.
The main goal of this study is to determine if student success metrics, such as retention and
graduation rates as well as GPA (Grade Point Average), are positively impacted by the suite of
academic and career development activities offered to the students, along with their scholarship
offering, as availed by the NSF S-STEM program.
The methods employed in this work involve: data collections, pictography, surveys of students
(every semester), academic and career development activities, basic statistics, and personal
interviews (at graduation). Personal data is kept confidential and students consent ahead of time
to sharing info about them, including photos.
Since the start of the program in August 2015 (through Spring 2019), 81 students have received
scholarships over 8 semesters. Given the program’s stated goals to retain and graduate low-
income, academically talented students, it is useful to look at both the general and academic
demographics of program participants through the 2019 Spring semester.
Table 1. Demographics of S-STEM participants
American Indian/Alaska Native
Table 1, cont. Demographics of S-STEM participants
As Table 1 shows, the scholarship has mainly gone to younger students, with the plurality of
students between the ages of 18 and 24 upon entry into the program, with a median age of 25.
However, many non-traditional students have also participated, especially those from the ages of
25 to 34. This age group has the majority representation upon exit from the program, with
participants roughly 3 years older after completion.
The scholarship has also benefitted males at a much higher rate than females (64% vs 36%). The
majority of program participants were white, while the next highest proportion were an
unreported race. However, all of these unreported responses came from students who self-
identified as Hispanic, making this the second largest racial group. The remaining students who
self-identified as Hispanic had a racial identity of either white or American Indian/Alaska Native.
Table 2. Academic demographics of S-STEM participants
GPA at intake
Class level at intake
Table 2, cont. Academic demographics of S-STEM participants
Semesters in Program
Intended major at intake
Table 2 represents the academic profile of participants in the program, showing general academic
success. At intake, students had a mean cumulative GPA of 3.72, which is higher than the
average GPA of engineering students at UNM. The S-STEM program also served students of
different years/standing in their degrees. The majority of students began participation in the
program during their senior year, with the median being two semesters (the most common length
of participation). Students with a junior-level standing had the next highest participation, while
four semesters was the second most common length of participation. Over half of the students
intended to major in either chemical engineering (25%) or mechanical engineering (28%) at
intake. The remainder declared some other engineering major or computer science.
Services Received through the Program
Through the infrastructure offered by the UNM Engineering Student Success (ESS) Center, the
S-STEM project has enhanced and develop a variety of activities and resources for participants.
Many of these activities developed through S-STEM have been institutionalized by ESS and are
now benefitting other engineering and computer science students. These activities range from
professional development to academic enrichment to career opportunities, all aiming to improve
post-graduation placement of students into graduate programs and STEM-related jobs.
Table 3. Student participation with S-STEM activities
% Who Participated
Average Number of
Activities per Person (sd)
Number of Times
Meetings and Conferences
As Table 3 shows, all scholars within the program participated in mentoring and seminars, with
many students participating in more than one of these activities throughout their time in the S-
STEM program. The other most common activities were meetings/conferences and research
opportunities, as each of these had nearly universal participation and many students participating
twice or more. Outreach has the lowest participation rate due to its not being included in the
original survey, as it was only mentioned by a third of students”. While relatively few students
participated in internship activities, this is likely due to the competitive nature to enter such an
activity, and the pre-existing employment of many students in their field of study, rather than a
lack of student interest in the activity. In addition to listing outreach, many students also listed
graduate seminars in their survey of activities,” enough to warrant its own category as well. On
the whole, student engagement with S-STEM activities was very high and consistent throughout
scholars’ time in the program.
Here are examples of activities that were made available for the S-STEM Scholars and many
scholars did participate in:
1. USA Jobs Tutorial provided by the Nuclear Weapons division of the Air Force Research
Laboratories: January 29, 2016.
2. Packaging Yourself Professional Workshop presented by Dr. Kenny Armijo, Research
Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories: February 4, 2016.
3. Intel Corporation Networking Event: February 8, 2016.
4. Career EXPO 2016: February 9, 2016.
5. Introduction to NAVAIR: February 9, 2016.
6. Undergraduate Research Opportunities presented by the McNair Undergraduate Research
Program at the University of New Mexico: February 19, 2016.
7. Seminar on “Publishing, Patenting, and Start-ups” presented by the New Mexico Society of
Professional Engineers: March 23, 2016.
8. Student Job and Internship Fair: April 7, 2016.
9. Presentation and Tour of the Center for High Technology Materials at the University of New
Mexico South Campus: April 29, 2016.
10. Information Sessions presented by AEROTEK and Air Force Research Labs Representatives:
May 3, 2016
11. Scholars served as panelists at the School of Engineering Scholarship Information Session:
May 6, 2016.
1. Developing a Professional Resume and Cover Letter Workshops in preparation for the Career
Fair (in collaboration with the Office of Career Services): Sessions from September 9-13, 2016.
2. Resume Critique Session by Engineering Professionals provided by the Society of Hispanic
Professional Engineers in partnership with our NSF Scholarship Program and Engineering
Student Services: September 12, 2016.
3. Industry Networking Social sponsored by the NSF Scholarship Program and Engineering
Student Services: September 13, 2016.
4. Students attended the Engineering and Science Career Fair held on September 14, 2016 and
various Company information sessions.
5. NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Program Manager, How to Apply
Seminar: September 19, 2016.
6. Google Information Session: September 29, 2016.
7. Presentation by Trane Corporation on 'Geothermal and Sustainable Building Systems': October
8. Presentation by the Aerospace Corporation on company research and development and
internship and job opportunities: October 24, 2016.
9. Intel Corporation Visit: November 17, 2016.
10. Los Alamos National Laboratories presentation: November 30, 2016.
11. Research Opportunities for Undergraduates and Graduate Opportunities with the Material
Research Science and Engineering Center: December 5, 2016.
Although only activities from the 2016 year were presented above, activities in other years were
similar in number and varied in their breadth and diversity. Below (Figures 1-5), we present
pictures of some of the above-listed activities in Table 3.
Figure 1. Scholars visiting the Center for High Technology Materials at UNM: April 29, 2016
Figure 2. INDUSTRY NETWORKING SOCIAL: September 13, 2016
Figure 3. Seminar on “Publishing, Patenting, and Start-ups” presented by the New Mexico Society of
Professional Engineers: March 23, 2016.
Figure 4. NSF Scholars meeting former NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez (Center): October 3, 2018
Figure 5: NSF Scholars at the UNM SOE Engineering EXPO: May 3, 2019
Table 4. Amount of financial aid received by number of semesters in the program
Amount of Aid
Table 4, cont. Amount of financial aid received by number of semesters in the program
A key aspect of this program is to provide financial support to qualified candidates eligible for
financial aid as established through a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Table 4
provides the mean, median, minimum, and maximum scholarship amounts for each semester of
participation. The minimum scholarship amount per person over the whole time of participation
was $1,125, while the maximum was $16,000. S-STEM awarded scholarship funds to students
for multiple semesters, accounting for this difference. Each semester, the average amount of
funding awarded was over $2,000 per student. S-STEM awarded a total of $539,012 to students
in need. This relieved students from the stress of finding funding to complete their education, as
confirmed by some students:
“This program allowed me to focus on school and less on the financial burdens associated with
“The NSF scholarship helped me in many ways. It removed my financial anxiety, allowing me to
focus on my studies and finishing the last semester of my degree strongly. It also kept me from
needing to pick up a second part time job, giving me more time to focus on learning. This
scholarship made my final semester more enjoyable and educational in a number of ways.”
Since the S-STEM program has stated goals of higher retention and graduation, and improved
employment opportunities and graduate placement, we looked at student status after participation,
focusing on whether they had graduated, held a job in a STEM field, or were pursuing a higher
degree in STEM (Table 5).
Table 5. Student status after S-STEM participation
Still Active in Program
Among those Who Graduated:
Have STEM Job
Pursuing Higher Education
Table 5, cont. Student status after S-STEM participation
Have job and intend to pursue higher education
S-STEM has been very successful in graduating and retaining students – the retention rate within
the program is 92%, while the graduation rate is 73% (not counting students still active in the
program and likely to graduate). The success of the program is also reflected when comparing the
retention of students in the S-STEM program to the average 8-semester retention for students
within the School of Engineering (SOE), who started in the 2015 year, which currently sits at
59%. In terms of graduation rates (based on the 2015 year when scholarships were first awarded),
the School of Engineering showed a 50.4% graduation rate, whereas the program produced a
73%+ graduation rate. It is clear that the S-STEM program is producing much higher retention
and graduation rates than the SOE overall rates.
Additionally, nearly all of those who graduated reported that they either obtained a job in a
STEM field (19%), intend to pursue some form of further education in STEM after graduating
(46%), or both (30%). Just 5% did not report any of these three.
To assess the success of S-STEM in improving academic outcomes and performance, we
analyzed pre- and post-program GPA by a variety of factors, including intended major, whether
the student successfully graduated, and their ability to find a job or further education in their
STEM field (Table 6).
Table 6. Pre- and post-program GPA by major, graduation status, job status, and education status
While it is not possible to evaluate the success of S-STEM in improving academic outcomes
without broader College of Engineering GPA data, it is immediately clear that S-STEM
participants largely held their cumulative GPA consistent from intake to exit, with an average
drop of 0.04. No subgrouping dropped to another grade band, and some even saw an increase in
their mean (computer engineering) or median (only education, only job). On the whole, however,
there is a remarkable consistency in both mean and median, with a general slight increase in
standard deviation for all subgroupings.
S-STEM has also collected student evaluations on the program through survey questions,
summarized below in Table 7 for years 2015 to 2018. This provides supplemental information on
how well S-STEM has achieved its stated goals.
Table 7. Post-participation student survey results
Implementation and Outcome
1. I am satisfied with
the overall guidance
received from my
2. As a result of my
meeting(s) with my
academic advisor, I
was able to make
good choices in my
3. I gained valuable
information from the
e-mails sent by the
4. Meetings with the
and/or staff have
5. The information
provided at the
workshops I attended
this semester was
very important for
6. Participation in the
Program helped me
to improve my GPA
because it allowed
me to focus more on
7. The scholarship
provided by the NSF
allowed me to work
fewer hours in a non-
8. I received referrals
to other services on
aid, career services,
9. The help received
has been fundamental
for my success as
student this semester.
10. Overall the NSF
has met my
For all questions, student response never dropped below 50% strongly agree, with no student ever
strongly disagreeing with any of the survey statements. Additionally, scholars never disagreed
more than 4% of the time, although undecided did exceed 10% on a few statements. More than
90% of students in all years agreed that S-STEM benefitted their personal and professional
development, while around 82% of all students felt that participation improved their GPA. While
there were no survey questions on whether S-STEM had improved their ability to graduate,
almost 97% of students felt it had been fundamental to their success.
The program receives, every semester, many positive testimonials from the student scholars
expressing how valuable this NSF scholarship program has been to their academic success and
overall lives. Below are several quotes selected to illustrate just that.
A 2019 scholar: “The NSF S-STEM Scholarship really empowered me to pursue excellence in
research and classes. By enabling me to focus less on finances, I was able to devote all my
attention to coursework and research.” “The NSF S-STEM Scholarship really empowered me to
pursue excellence in research and classes. By enabling me to focus less on finances, I was able to
devote all my attention to coursework and research.”
A 2019 scholar: “The NSF Scholarship program enabled me to attend school full time, provided
me with opportunities to volunteer at outreach events, and get me to career development and
A 2018 scholar: “The NSF program not only made it possible to return to school, but possible for
me to do an honors project, attend extra lectures, and network with professors, professionals and
my fellow students.”
A 2018 scholar: “It was a rewarding and challenging experience. I am happy to finally receive the
scholarship the last semester of my bachelor’s degree after re-applying 5 times. I enjoyed the
mentorship and networking opportunities I received from the program. The organizers and
mentors were passionate about preparing their students’ for academic careers and their future.
The final presentations/award ceremony was a highlight of the program for me. Hopefully, NSF
continue to see the value and impact this program have on UNM students and continue to provide
funding for our future students.”
A 2017 scholar: “I want to say the workshops on career development were influential in
improving my applications to graduate school and obtaining the position I have now. The
environment was super encouraging and constructive to allowing me to see different probabilities
and I am truly grateful.”
A 2017 scholar: “Without the NSF Scholarship, I am 100% confident that I would not have
graduated with the high level of success that I did. Not having to work as many hours afforded
me the time to graduate with university & departmental honors and the ability to obtain a
fellowship to the top nuclear engineering school in the nation. Thank you, the NSF committee,
and to Elsa.”
Summary and Conclusions
Both the qualitative and the quantitative data suggest that S-STEM is a successful program.
Graduation rates and reports of post-program career and higher education placement are
extremely positive. The students participating in this program are high achieving in terms of GPA,
and indeed, have a higher GPA than average for the School of Engineering. They also
demonstrated financial need and were eligible for aid. This program ensured that these students
were able to achieve their goals of obtaining a degree in engineering and further their career. In
short, the authors believe that the program goals were achieved and would recommend to others
to consider its elements for student success initiatives at their institution.
The authors would like to acknowledge the National Science Foundation for funding this STEP
project from DUE (Division of Undergraduate Education), DUE- 1458854.
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