CONCORD, N.C. – Fiona Clark is Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s first recipient of a new scholarship aimed at assisting students who are pursuing degrees related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Because of the grant, Clark is able to immerse herself in learning without worrying so much about the financial burdens associated with her education.
“This scholarship gives me the ability to be financially secure during a point where college is harder and more expensive than what some may expect,” said Clark, who is pursuing an Associate in Science degree at Rowan-Cabarrus. Upon graduating in 2020, she plans to continue her education to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree, and possibly a doctorate.
To assist students like Clark, Rowan-Cabarrus is working alongside Gaston College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to execute scholarships made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). By engaging in robust, individualized education plans, selected students are able to earn their associate degrees at Rowan-Cabarrus or Gaston College in STEM-related fields of study before transferring to UNCC to complete their bachelor’s degrees in biology.
Clark received a SPARC4 (STEM Persistence and Retention via Curricula, Centralization, Cohorts and Collaboration) scholarship that may be used for housing, gas and other living expenses in addition to tuition. The scholarships are available to Rowan-Cabarrus students with demonstrated financial need and academic promise in STEM disciplines. A student who meets the scholarship criteria is eligible to apply for up to $6,000 per year at the community college level and $7,500 per year upon transferring to UNCC.
“Considering the affordable cost of an education at Rowan-Cabarrus, the scholarship provides ample benefits to our students,” said Dr. Carol Scherczinger, Rowan-Cabarrus dean of arts and sciences. “We deliver a high-quality education for a fraction of the cost of private colleges. In fact, an entire year for a full-time student at Rowan-Cabarrus will cost less than $4,000 – including tuition, fees and books! The scholarship more than covers this.”
Through the agreement with UNCC, Clark is eligible for special advising and faculty/peer mentoring to ensure that she is able to navigate toward successful completion of her associate degree and experience a smooth transfer to UNCC. There, she can continue receiving scholarship money and become part of a discipline-based learning community that includes fellow transfer students in the biological sciences.
“Learning is one of my favorite things to do, and the SPARC4 program has introduced me to the broader science community,” Clark said. “In my biology class, we discuss topics such as humans’ impact on the environment, what can be done to prevent the issues from worsening, and new topics prevalent in the science field. These discussions expose me to different points of view. Science is always evolving, and new theories are always coming out. I grew up surrounded by nature and fascinated by the way it changed over time. I love debating different topics and learning of new species that are evolving in front of our eyes.”
At Rowan-Cabarrus, Clark enjoys convenient hybrid, online and onsite classes that fit into her schedule, plus small class sizes that offer a personal relationship with instructors who share similar interests.
“As instructors, we embrace the chance to know our students on a personal level and help guide them to successful careers, but we know some students need extra assistance with financial aid, engaging fully with their course material, and staying on course to achieve their goals,” said Scherczinger. “We are delighted to be able to offer these scholarships to students who have the potential to do great things in STEM.”
By collaborating on the scholarship project, Rowan-Cabarrus, Gaston College and UNCC hope to improve recruitment and retention of talented students in biological sciences at all three institutions. The effort also is expected to contribute to the nationwide conversation around what helps or hinders community college students as they strive for successful careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
“Increasing the number of students pursuing careers in STEM fields is critical to diversifying the scientific and technical skill in our region,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “This collaborative grant with Gaston College and UNCC supports students who show great promise and who can benefit from the additional mentoring and financial resources.”