NMSU receives major grant for NSF Scholarships in STEM program

WRITER: wthv8420
CONTACT: Enrico Pontelli, 575-646-3500

New Mexico State University has been awarded a $3.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to prepare students for careers in computing and provide scholarships for academically talented community college students in the computer science field who need financial help.

NMSU is the lead institution in partnership with New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and four community colleges to fund NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program.

Huiping Cao, NMSU associate professor of computer science is the principal investigator for the project and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Enrico Pontelli, Dongwan Shin, associate professor and department chair of computer science at New Mexico Tech, and Sara Hug, a research associate with the Alliance for Technology, are co-principal investigators.

“The goal of the grant is to help the students not just with financial support but develop professional skills, particularly in the area of cyber security,” Pontelli said. “This is one of the most competitive and fastest growing fields in the area of computer science.”

NMSU has partnered with Doña Ana Community College, the NMSU Alamogordo campus, and the NMSU Grants campus, while Tech has partnered with Eastern New Mexico University’s campus in Ruidoso.

“An important aspect of this grant is to help students transition from community college to a four-year program,” Pontelli said. “So a lot of the scholarships are reserved for community college students with the understanding that, after one year in community college, they will transfer to a four-year program at either the NMSU main campus or the Tech main campus.”

Pontelli said he hopes the grant will make the students who apply for the scholarships more competitive in the job market.

“There will be a rubric by which the applicants will be scored and the top students will be selected to receive scholarships,” Pontelli said.

Students who are either heading into a community college program or who are heading for a four-year program are welcome to apply.

The grant is for five years and success will be based on how many scholarship recipients have completed their computer-science degrees and are entering the workforce in a related field.

Pontelli said he expects to award around 22 scholarships a year for three cohorts of students.

“So it’s not just a one-time thing,” Pontelli said. “Once they are selected, they won’t have to worry about getting a job while they work on their degrees.”

Pontelli said he hopes the results of the five-year grant will give evidence that the program works, encouraging companies in the computer science industry to fund more scholarships for computer science students and that other industries will do the same for students in different fields.

“I see this as creating an infrastructure that will grow over time once it is proven,” Pontelli said. “The good thing is NMSU has been investing a lot of effort in the area of cyber security, we have a lot of initiatives in place. A degree program in cyber security is going through the approval process now, which means people see the value of this degree program.”

Pontelli sees the NSF award as a major step in positioning NMSU as a leader in the state in the area of cyber security training and research.

“We have a track record of success and we have good people, Pontelli said. “All these initiatives together demonstrate that the NSF believes in NMSU, that this is an institution where we can make these initiatives successful.”

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