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Lehigh Carbon Community College

$1 Million Grant will Help LCCC Encourage STEM Students

By Leanne Recla

In 2017, Lehigh Carbon Community College was looking for a new way to encourage more of its students to pursue degrees in the STEM field.

So the college applied for a five-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, and recently received the news that it was awarded the grant.

“Many of our students cannot afford college, even at the low cost that a community college provides,” says Deepika Khilnaney, assistant professor of physics and principal investigator for the grant. “Many are working one or more jobs to be able to pay for college and other expenses. Financial aid can help reduce the stress of having to work to afford college.”

The grant is under the NSF’s S-STEM program, which is designed to produce skilled graduates prepared to enter the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce.

“There is perhaps a belief that pursuing those careers is more challenging and requires more challenging courses,” Khilnaney says. “But studies show that growth in STEM jobs far outpaces other disciplines. STEM workers are less likely to be unemployed because jobs are so plentiful, and STEM jobs typically pay higher wages.”

The Start SMART project, which stands for Self-Motivated, Academic, Reflective and Talented, will provide scholarships for 90 to 100 academically talented, low-income students to increase their retention, degree completion and transfers to four-year programs.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer scholarships to our students who are interested in pursuing STEM careers,” said LCCC President Dr. Ann D. Bieber. “There is a demand for talented graduates in the STEM field, and we are happy to be able to help these students start their college careers at LCCC.”

Students majoring in science, engineering, mathematics, computing and related programs will participate as a cohort in structured activities to motivate them to persist in their STEM programs. These activities will include one-on-one mentoring with STEM faculty, orientation, monthly meetings featuring integrated learning labs, mathematics support, student-facilitated study groups, S-STEM buddies, presentations by professionals, workshops, field trips, STEM Club and job/transfer fairs.

Students will also be required to create and maintain ePortfolios to record their goals, artifacts of coursework and activities, and ongoing reflections of their personal and professional development.

“By getting the grant, the college can provide students with education on their career goals using the activities. By giving them a scholarship, they can be more motivated to participate because there is financial support,” Khilnaney says. She was joined on the grant team by Assistant Professor Richard Snyder and Assistant Professor Maureen Maikner.

As a component of the project, LCCC will participate in a research study to determine whether the project’s evidence-based strategies will lead to academic success for community college students in STEM programs.

“We know from our own history that our STEM initiatives work,” Khilnaney says. “Graduation rates of STEM scholars have been exceptional, and we want to expand the success of past programs to more students and to include under-targeted groups like women and minorities.”

Students who participate in the following majors at LCCC may be eligible for the program, which will start in fall 2018. Anyone who is interested should contact Khilnaney at