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Rowan-Cabarrus student studies science through grant funding

CONCORD — Fiona Clark is Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s first recipient of a new scholarship aimed at assisting students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“This scholarship gives me the ability to be financially secure during a point where college is harder and more expensive than what some may expect,” said Clark, who is pursuing an associate in science degree. Upon graduating in 2020, she plans to continue her education to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree, and possibly a doctorate.

To assist students like Clark, Rowan-Cabarrus is working with Gaston College and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to execute scholarships through the National Science Foundation. Selected students are able to earn associate degrees at Rowan-Cabarrus or Gaston College in STEM fields before transferring to UNC-Charlotte to complete bachelor’s degrees in biology.

Clark received a STEM Persistence and Retention scholarship, or SPARC4, that may be used for housing, gas and other living expenses in addition to tuition. The scholarships are available to students with demonstrated financial need and academic promise in STEM disciplines. A student who meets the scholarship criteria is eligible to apply for as much as $6,000 per year at the community college level and $7,500 per year upon transferring to UNCC.

“Considering the affordable cost of an education at Rowan-Cabarrus, the scholarship provides ample benefits to our students,” said Carol Scherczinger, Rowan-Cabarrus dean of arts and sciences. “We deliver a high-quality education for a fraction of the cost of private colleges. In fact, an entire year for a full-time student at Rowan-Cabarrus will cost less than $4,000 — including tuition, fees and books. The scholarship more than covers this.”

Through the agreement with UNCC, Clark is eligible for advising and faculty/peer mentoring to help ensure successful completion of her associate degree and a smooth transfer to UNCC. There, she can continue receiving scholarship money and become part of a discipline-based learning community that includes fellow transfer students in biological sciences.

“Learning is one of my favorite things to do, and the SPARC4 program has introduced me to the broader science community,” Clark said. “In my biology class, we discuss topics such as humans’ impact on the environment, what can be done to prevent the issues from worsening, and new topics prevalent in the science field. These discussions expose me to different points of view. Science is always evolving, and new theories are always coming out. I grew up surrounded by nature and fascinated by the way it changed over time. I love debating different topics and learning of new species that are evolving in front of our eyes.

By collaborating on the scholarship project, Rowan-Cabarrus, Gaston College and UNC-Charlotte are working to improve recruitment and retention of students in biological sciences. The effort also is expected to contribute to the nationwide conversation about what helps or hinders community college students as they strive for successful careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Increasing the number of students pursuing careers in STEM fields is critical to diversifying the scientific and technical skill in our region,” said RCCC President Carol S. Spalding. “This collaborative grant with Gaston College and UNCC supports students who show great promise and who can benefit from the additional mentoring and financial resources.”

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