Grants at University of St. Thomas make higher education more attainable

The University of St. Thomas' School of Engineering is taking steps to make higher education more attainable.

The school is on the receiving end of a nearly $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

"It’s always important to give people with high potential, the means to achieve that potential," said Dr. Katherine Acton, an engineering professor at the university.

The money will fund scholarships for more than 30 transfer students pursuing degrees in civil, computer, electrical or mechanical engineering.

"There’s certainly a lot of focus on diversity, equity and inclusion," she said.

According to a recent report by the NSF, the number of women and people of color graduating with degrees in science and engineering in the U.S. has increased over the past two decades. However, they continue to be underrepresented in these fields.

"NSF has realized on a national level that these economic barriers to higher education are inhibiting the growth of the talent in our country and nationwide. So, we are leaving talent on the table if we don’t get these students into the programs," Dr. Acton said.

The university is partnering with several community colleges to strengthen the student transfer pipeline.

Sara Sergant transferred to the university a few years ago from Century Community College in White Bear Lake. Now, the 34-year-old holds a degree in electrical engineering.

"I completely ruled St. Thomas out because of the cost. And when I found out that they did a transfer scholarship, that completely changed my mind," Sergant said.

The boost of extra support is now helping to break down barriers.

"This is a theme throughout the university’s planning process - that we want to build diversity, equity and inclusion within our culture at St. Thomas and it's very important," Dr. Acton said.

The application process will begin in spring 2022 for fall 2022 enrollment, with each recipient receiving $10,000 each academic year. NSF will provide the grant for the next six years.