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Grant to BHSU helps more low-income STEM students graduate

Black Hills State University's Rapid City campus.
Black Hills State University's Rapid City campus.

Black Hills State University is planning to use a $1.5 million grant to help low-income science and math students graduate.

The grant from the National Science Foundation will give 24 students a $10,000 annual scholarship. Applicants must qualify for the Pell grant, the federal scholarship for students with “exceptional financial need.” Yearly tuition at BHSU is about $18,000 for in-state students.

Thirty-six percent of BHSU attendees are Pell-eligible according to Dr. Dan Asunskis, a chemistry professor at the school. Asunskis said low-income students have work responsibilities that make it hard to keep up with classes.

“When we talk about these Pell-eligible students, a lot of the time it does come down to finances,” he said. “If they’re underperforming, that tends to come from their non-classroom activities and the amount they’re being pulled out of the classroom.”

In addition to scholarships, the grant will also create research positions for low-income students who normally wouldn’t qualify due to low GPAs.

“They’re the ones that are most likely to ultimately end up leaving, so this grant will specifically fund those students and efforts to continue to engage them,” Asunskis said. “That’s our way of getting them additional financial support, getting them a job, but it’s a job that will help build their resume and help their career in science.”

The grant will also pay for extra tutoring services and training for faculty.

“Through this grant, we’re trying to develop new mechanisms through which to engage these students,” Asunskis said. “Students that participate in research overwhelmingly get to graduation, so that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to link up the low-income students with research opportunities.

In the coming months BHSU will contact local high schools to solicit applications for the program, which will launch in fall 2023.

Slater Dixon is a junior at Augustana University studying Government and Data Science. He was born in Sioux Falls and is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.
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