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CoSMiC Scholars Reach for the Stars

 CoSMiC Scholars Field Trip to the Historical Electronics Museum, 2008
CoSMiC Scholars Field Trip to the Historical Electronics Museum, 2008

Towson, Md. (March 30, 2011): "We can’t ignore it. It’s just too good an opportunity for our students." Martha Siegel, professor of mathematics and project director of the current National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded "CoSMiC Scholars" program recalls Joyce Little’s remarks as Little read the National Science Foundation’s CSEMS (or "Computer Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Scholarships" program) announcement. Neither faculty member, at the time, knew that this was to be the start of something big … and continuing.

The former NSF CSEMS provided, on a competitive basis, scholarship funding for colleges and universities to distribute to worthy and financially eligible students studying computer science, computer information science, mathematics, and engineering. Funding for the program was provided through visa fees paid by companies employing foreign nationals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)related positions. The overall intent was to build the capacity for Americans to pursue careers in critical areas of work force need.

That was in 2001. Towson’s first CSEMS award provided $396,000 for four years in support of students studying computer science, computer information systems, and mathematics. Little has since retired, but Towson University’s award through the former CSEMS–now the S-STEM, or "Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics" program-continues with Siegel, Gail Gasparich (Department of Biological Sciences), and Gabriele Meiselwitz (Department of Computer and Information Sciences) as project directors. Students in the MB3 program now join their colleagues in computer science, computer information systems, and mathematics as CoSMiC (Computing, Science and Mathematics in College) Scholars. The disciplines share a common theme in that all are very dependent on mathematics and computing skills. The total amount awarded Towson is now over $1.5 million. All funding is for the same purpose, to enable student success in the disciplines supported.

The NSF funding allows the project directors not only to provide CoSMiC Scholars with scholarships to ease their financial burdens, but also to make career development, networking and civic engagement opportunities available to them. According to Gasparich, esprit de corps is an important aspect of the program. "The students are fully engaged in campus life; they really feel like they’re part of everything," She says. All-around development is indeed an important outcome of participation in the program. "Life outside the lab," as the project directors describe it, is a major aspect of the program. Students go on field trips, attend a speaker series, and take part in life-skills sessions. "Is God a Mathematician?" was the subject of a field trip to the Walters Art Gallery. The project directors were thrilled at the students’ response to the field trip. Not only were they interested in the topic, but they also became interested in the museum itself and in experiencing the surrounding neighborhood.

The title "CoSMiC Scholars" is neither a random nor unimportant detail. The students supported through this program are scholars. They must maintain a good overall grade point average and have writing assignments in addition to their regular studies to demonstrate that all academic achievement is interconnected. They become part of a community, engaging in an overall experience rather than just receiving tuition assistance. They see other students who are much like them, with similar previous life experiences, and realize they can be successful in college. The plan for the current NSF award is to have prior CoSMiC Scholars participate in the program with current scholars, further building the community.

Siegel sums it up nicely when explaining why the CoSMiC Scholars program is so important to the students and the faculty members participating. "It’s a wonderful way to be with the students outside of class."

The CoSMiC Scholars program is now accepting applications for scholarship support, under an April 22, 2011 deadline. Those interested should contact Renee Watkins, rwatkins@towson.edu, for further information.

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