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Loyola joining national NASA-funded effort to keep minority students in STEM fields

Loyola press release - February 3, 2014

Loyola University New Orleans is joining in on a national effort to make sure minority students have the opportunity to stick with science and pursue promising careers in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and math. The effort, funded by $500,000 from NASA awarded to Xavier University, is a collaboration among six New Orleans-based universities including Xavier, Loyola, Dillard University, University of New Orleans, Southern University New Orleans and Tulane University.

“NASA recognizes that baby boomers are retiring right now. So in science and engineering, there is an expanding job market,” said Loyola physics professor Patrick Garrity, Ph.D., the Loyola coordinator for the effort. “The STEM area needs students. NASA recognizes that and is trying to raise the graduation rate in the sciences.”

But, Houston, we have a problem ... with attrition. When it comes to the STEM fields, students tend to drop out of these challenging fields in the first two years of college, according to Garrity.

The project aims to change that by offering minority students scholarships, hands-on experience with industry contacts and exclusive opportunities to present and share their research. Loyola will select four of its students to participate in the program during their freshman and sophomore years, awarding them $1,500 scholarships each semester, $4,000 summer research stipends and a paid trip to the Louisiana Space Conference.

“I think the biggest benefit is contact with the real world. What I find is that students have the necessary coursework. If they make it through the first two years, the coursework is great, but it’s very different when you go to work. You find out what a scientist or an engineer really does,” said Garrity, who before he became a professor worked at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. on NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

The students will also take advantage of the program’s mentoring, tutoring, professional development and graduate school preparation activities beginning in their freshman year—a unique offering considering that most students in the STEM fields receive these types of opportunities in their junior and senior years, according to Garrity.

This project is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under Cooperative Agreement No. NNS13AR32A.

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