Coker College Granted Funding from NSF to Extend Its STEM Scholars in Biology Program to Include a Second Cohort

    Coker College Granted Funding from NSF to Extend Its STEM Scholars in Biology Program to Include a Second Cohort


    Coker College was recently granted additional funding (approximately $682,000) from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (NSF S-STEM) program to add a second cohort to the college’s STEM Scholars in Biology (SSB) program for high-achieving students interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields and who are in need of financial assistance to attend college.

    Coker is currently serving as the lead institution on a research project involving three additional colleges, using a five-year $4.4 million dollar grant from the NSF S-STEM program. The grant provides scholarship aid averaging $6,000 per year for each of the recipient's four years in college. Coker currently has 18 SSB scholars participating in its 2018 (class of 2022) cohort and now with the additional funding, the college will be able to add as many as 18 SSB scholars to a 2019 (class of 2023) cohort.

    The project will generate new information about factors contributing to the persistence and success of biology students who need financial assistance. It will contribute new information to the literature specific to low-income students and will ultimately help increase graduation rates of STEM scholars, while increasing their participation in a STEM-related graduate program or field of employment.

    Joseph Flaherty, Ph.D., professor of biology and director of undergraduate research at Coker College, is the principal investigator for the project, with Tracy Parkinson, Ph.D., vice president for strategic partnerships at Coker, serving as co-principal investigator. The program is also supported by a number of key faculty personnel and offices across all of the participating institutions. “The enhanced financial aid for students, while important, is not the only feature of the project," says Flaherty. “The enhanced programmatic elements combined with a robust student-centered focus will certainly strengthen all partnering institutions as we better prepare our students for entry into scientific careers.”

    In addition to the four-year scholarships, SSB participants will receive an integrated first-year experience, including a STEM-based first-year seminar, new laptop computers, mentoring by external scientists, intrusive advising from faculty and support from peer mentors, and research or project-based learning experiences. The impact of these activities on enrollment and retention, graduation, and post-graduate placement rates will be examined.

    Flaherty says, “Just the idea that we’re carrying out a scientific study to try to figure out the key factors that influence a student’s decision to not only succeed in college, but to persist in their chosen major and use that degree to become a professional in the biological sciences is very exciting and will enhance our understanding of these important contributors to student success.”

    All four colleges participating in the 2018 program belong to the Yes We Must Coalition, which strives to increase low-income and underrepresented students’ college-degree attainment at small, independent, nonprofit colleges and universities: Coker College (Hartsville, SC), College of Saint Elizabeth (Morristown, NJ), Ferrum College (Ferrum, VA), and Mercy College (Dobbs Ferry, NY).

    For more information about Coker’s SSB program, please contact Dr. Joseph Flaherty at or 843-383-8079. Students interested in applying for Coker’s SSB 2019 cohort (entering Coker in the fall of 2019 and graduating in 2023) can apply here.