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Dr. Christopher Kitchens is Principal Investigator on $4.3 Million NSF SPECTRA Grant

June 19, 2019

Paul Alongi, College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences
June 3, 2019

CLEMSON — Hundreds of students who transfer from South Carolina technical colleges to Clemson University will soon be eligible for scholarships as part of a new program backed by nearly $5 million from the National Science Foundation.  The plan calls for more than 300 transfer students to receive $3 million in need-based scholarships over the five-year life of the grant, said Christopher Kitchens, the program’s principal investigator and associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Clemson.

From left: Timothy Fulford of Trident Technical College, Joe Santaniello of Spartanburg Community College, Christopher Kitchens of Clemson University and Shawn Masto of Spartanburg Community College meet in Clemson University’s Earle Hall to plan SPECTRA.

The scholarships will be open to students who plan to pursue Bachelor of Science degrees in engineering or computing in Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.   The rest of the funding will pay for an assortment of programs, many aimed at helping transfer students form a community to support each through some of higher education’s most challenging majors. Researchers will also study the results of the program to learn what leads to success and share their findings with the nation.

Researchers are calling the program Student Pathways in Engineering and Computing for Transfers, or SPECTRA. To apply, go to clemson.edu/cecas/spectra.

The idea behind SPECTRA is to help recruit, retain and graduate transfer students as they begin to make up a bigger share of the Clemson student body, largely because starting at technical colleges can reduce higher education costs.

Some transfer students, though, may unknowingly be putting themselves at a disadvantage, Kitchens said.   “For many, it’s due to financial restrictions,” he said. “Others just don’t know how to make that transition from technical colleges to the university and they get lost in the system. What this program provides are pathways for the students so they can see the roadmap that will help them along the way.”

At stake is who will be eligible for some of the nation’s most lucrative jobs. Fourteen of the 20 bachelor’s degrees that led to the highest pay were in engineering and computer science, all with mid-career salaries at $117,000 or more, according to PayScale’s College Salary Report.

The application process for the scholarships are now open, paving the way for the first SPECTRA students to arrive at Clemson in the fall semester. Scholarship amounts will vary depending on students’ individual needs but are expected to range between about $5,000 and $10,000 per year.

For most students, the scholarships will cover costs at Clemson only. Students who start out at Trident Technical College in Charleston and Spartanburg Community College are also eligible for two years of scholarships before they transfer. Those scholarships will be worth up to $3,000.

Targeting Trident Technical College and Spartanburg Community College for additional scholarships will allow researchers to see what happens when they build a community of students and expose them to special programs before they transfer.

The colleges were chosen in part for their locations on opposite ends of the state and for demographics. Trident Technical College has the greatest number of students who are underrepresented in engineering and computing, while Spartanburg Community College leads in first-generation college students.

When transfer students arrive at Clemson, they will find several new programs that researchers are creating for them as part of SPECTRA. The programs will be open to all transfer students, whether they receive scholarships or not, and will include access to advisers, special events during move-in and talks by industry representatives.
The collection of programs is being packaged as Clemson Assistance for Transfer Students in Engineering, or CATS.

Also as part of SPECTRA, researchers will establish the Advisors for Communities of Engineers program. Ten Ph.D. students who aspire to become educators will be designated as ACE Fellows.
They will shadow a Clemson instructor in a freshman-level course then help teach and mentor students at technical colleges. After two semesters, the graduate students will return to Clemson with the transfer students.

Even as SPECTRA is just getting started, researchers are laying plans to keep it going after the federal funding runs out. The hope is to continue providing $1 million per year in scholarships, with funding coming from industry, Kitchens said.

The SPECTRA principal investigator from Trident Technical College is Timothy Fulford and the principal investigator from Spartanburg Community College is Joe Santaniello. Co-principal investigators from Clemson include Matt Boyer, Joshua Summers and Anand Gramopadhye.

Tim Hardee, president of the South Carolina Technical College System, said that SPECTRA has the potential to benefit students at all of the state’s 16 technical colleges.
“Through SPECTRA, we will enhance the opportunities available for our students across the state enabling them to reach their goals and enrich their college experience,” Hardee said. “Accessibility and affordability are key tenets of the System. To this end, we are excited about the new doors that SPECTRA could open for our students.”

Mary Thornley, president of Trident Technical College, said that SPECTRA will open new opportunities for students.  “This collaboration will provide students with new pathways to seamlessly transfer from Trident Technical College to Clemson University to pursue degrees in engineering and computing,” she said. “SPECTRA will help keep a college education within reach for those who may struggle with the cost or bureaucracy of transferring to a research university.”

Henry Giles, president of Spartanburg Community College, said SPECTRA will help show students that they can achieve degrees in engineering and computing.  “We are in full support of this collaboration, which will open new pathways for students,” he said. “SPECTRA will make college access easier and more affordable for students while they are at Spartanburg Community College and while they are at Clemson.”

Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said that SPECTRA will help the college recruit and retain some of the South Carolina Technical College System’s top students.  “SPECTRA will provide some of the crucial tools transfer students need for success,” he said. “We look forward to deepening our collaboration with the state’s technical colleges through this program so that we can work together to help students achieve their dreams.”

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under award number 1834081.   Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.



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