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Engineering success

Photo by Mike Mazzanti.

Fifteen of the 20 fastest growing professions in 2014 will require a strong understanding of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But college students in the United States are graduating with degrees in these fields at an alarmingly low rate.

Two Northeastern University mathematics professors are committed to doing their part to solve the problem, which is hampering the country’s ability to compete in an increasingly global economy.

Professors Bob Case and Don King have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $600,000 over five years to help more than a dozen women and under-represented minorities in the Boston Public Schools earn degrees at Northeastern in fields such as math, biology and physics. The grant will focus on minorities and women, though any student with a heavy financial need is eligible.

The grant will support 14 Math and Science Talent (MST) Scholars:  12 undergraduates and two graduate students. Each undergraduate will receive $40,000 toward a bachelor’s degree, and each graduate student will receive $20,000 toward a master’s or doctorate degree.

“These are some of the best students in the Boston Public Schools, and they are attracted to many institutions,” King said. “The grants we have secured will make Northeastern an attractive choice.”

This NSF grant is the latest step in an ongoing effort by Northeastern’s Department of Mathematics to encourage students to choose careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

In the last 10 years, for example, Case and King have worked closely with students and teachers 11 Boston public high schools, including the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, to set up a year-round program called the Bridge to Calculus.

At the heart of all the programs is the goal of bolstering students’ confidence, experience and interest in STEM education and careers. As King put it, “We hope to have an impact on their aspirations.”

All grant winners will be required to participate in PRISM, an initiative that connects Northeastern mathematicians, physicists and biologists with first- and second-year students who want to learn more about research-related co-ops and internships in math and science fields.

Case and King hope the focus on STEM education will lead to an increase in the number of graduates pursuing careers in math and science. “STEM professionals are contributing the ideas and the inventions that lead to our economic growth,” King said. “More scientific and engineering activity will lead to more employment and maintain the United States as an economic leader in the world.”