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Hendrix College Receives $2.5 Million National Science Foundation Grant for Expanding the Scientific Workforce in Rural Regions

Project will support STEM-focused students from economically limited backgrounds

Faculty members leading the current S-STEM initiative at Hendrix include Principal Investigator Dr. Laura MacDonald and Co-Investigators Drs. Mark Goadrich, Courtney Hatch, Damon Spayde, and Leslie Zorwick.

CONWAY, Arkansas (March 26, 2024)—Hendrix College has been awarded a six-year, $2,500,000 Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The grant will provide up to $15,000 in scholarships annually to students from economically limited backgrounds to pursue degrees in STEM fields at Hendrix. As part of the program, students will have the opportunity to engage in a structured learning community that builds lifelong connections and will receive summer stipends to pursue research and internships. Participants will also be engaged in a community-based project facilitated through Hendrix College and the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub to face student-identified challenges that can be addressed through scientific solutions. 

“We are honored to be included in this incredible opportunity with Hendrix College. This collaboration demonstrates the power of community working together to provide resources for advancements in STEM,” said Innovation Hub Director Errin Stanger. “The commitment to serving economically limited individuals is directly in line with our mission.” 

A main goal of the funding is to help students identify ways in which they can bring their talents and ideas forward to solve problems in their local communities, particularly in regions of Arkansas with limited infrastructure and access to broadband internet. The grant also provides funding for faculty workshops and development to position them to most effectively support the STEM Scholars through intentional advising and mentorship. 

The six-year program will be available to three cohorts of 10 students who plan on pursuing the STEM disciplines including biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science, biochemistry and molecular biology, and chemical physics. While all students who meet financial criteria are eligible, the College is especially interested in recruiting students from the rural regions of Arkansas and surrounding states and welcomes students who are first-generation and who are otherwise underrepresented in science. 

The current grant builds on a successful effort by Drs. Laura MacDonald ’09, Courtney Hatch ’00, Leslie Zorwick, former faculty members Drs. Matthew Moran and Dionne Jackson ’96, and Director of Career Services Leigh Lassiter-Counts ’01. Funding from the last grant supported 21 students with scholarships, advising, research, internships, and programming opportunities. The program graduated 95% of its student participants, who completed a total of more than 44 research projects, gave 26 presentations at regional and national conferences, and resulted in four peer-reviewed publications with student authors. 

“It was such a privilege to work with the 21 students in our last project,” said Associate Professor of Biology Laura MacDonald, who serves as primary investigator for the grant. “They persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic and really came together as a group to support one another, which contributed to their overall success. They left such an impact on our grant team, and their experiences and feedback were central to how we framed our new proposal.” 

The current project is spearheaded by MacDonald, alongside co-investigators Professor of Chemistry Courtney Hatch, Professor of Physics Damon Spayde, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Mark Goadrich, and Professor of Psychology Leslie Zorwick.

“It’s an honor to lead such an amazing group of colleagues, each accomplished, in the upcoming work, the major focus of which is to make a broader impact on Arkansas,” MacDonald added. “So often, we see talented students either leave the sciences or leave the state to pursue professional opportunities in more affluent areas of the country, and we need to be focusing on how we can help them pursue a future in their own communities. Arkansas is an amazing place to live and learn, and we need bright, talented individuals to steer us into the future. We are excited to be part of that process.”

NSF support for S-STEM at Hendrix College recognizes the College’s spectacular academic outcomes and success in preparing students for an independent professional journey, as described in the final evaluation of the previous funding cycle for the project, said Hendrix President Karen Petersen.

“A residential liberal arts education allows students and faculty to develop meaningful mentoring relationships, which not only prepares students for academic success but also for life beyond the classroom or the lab,” said Petersen. “Our students, particularly those who are first-generation students or from areas where college-going is not the norm, benefit from having multiple advocates across campus. Those in the S-STEM program also learn, through experimentation, that failure is a crucial part of learning and growth, which prepares them well for a lifetime of learning. In many respects, S-STEM exemplifies our approach to education as reflected in our motto, ‘Unto the Whole Person.’”  

About Hendrix College

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges and celebrated among the country’s leading liberal arts colleges for academic quality, engaged learning opportunities and career preparation, vibrant campus life, and value. The Hendrix College Warriors compete in 21 NCAA Division III sports. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. Learn more at   

“… Through engagement that links the classroom with the world, and a commitment to diversity, inclusion, justice, and sustainable living, the Hendrix community inspires students to lead lives of accomplishment, integrity, service, and joy.” —Hendrix College Statement of Purpose