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Grants Help Wesley Students and the Greater Community

scienceThanks to intensified efforts on the part of Wesley faculty and staff, the College has been awarded more than $5 million in grants (distributed over multiple years) recently that, among other benefits, will fund undergraduate research as well as a mentoring program for teachers-in-training; equip laboratories and classrooms; and allow for the creation of a new minor in informatics and a new master’s degree in occupational therapy—the first such program in Delaware.

“We are an institution that is largely dependent on tuition,” says Dr. Jeffrey K. Gibson, interim vice president for academic affairs, “and these grants allow us to put more money toward programming and materials that will create more opportunities for the students than we’d be able to otherwise.”

Competition for grant monies is intense, with the success rate for applications typically being in the low teens or mid-twenties percent range, according to Dr. Malcolm D’Souza, professor of chemistry and associate dean of interdisciplinary/collaborative sponsored research. Dr. D’Souza himself is the principal investigator on three large grants: a $1.7 million IDeA Biomedical Research Excellence grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences that will allow Wesley to broaden its programs and support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students; a $1.5 million EPSCoR federal grant to support undergraduate student research in the sciences; and $700,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation and the state of Delaware to support STEM education.

Dr. D’Souza notes that Wesley has in the past exceeded expectations for research output as a result of its STEM grants. In addition, through grant-supported work, it has provided solutions for industry, such as a cancer drug portal and a commercial drug data training set, as well as an analysis of obesity and mortality that will benefit public health in Delaware. Such successes are crucial when it comes time for renewal of funding or to demonstrate a track record for new funding applications.

“The research opportunities that are provided through the grants in our STEM department … prepare many of our students to go off immediately into industry but also prepare them for the kind of research work they will be doing in graduate school,” Dr. Gibson says. Many of these students are getting graduate-type research opportunities while still undergraduates, which gives them “a leg up” when applying to graduate school, he adds.

While many of the grants the College receives benefit students directly, they also have far-reaching benefits to the community at large. The education department, for example, is currently in the second of a five-year $1.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant used to establish a program whereby Wesley student-teachers are mentored by veteran teachers in local school districts who are developing a professional learning community with Wesley College Education faculty. Principal investigators Dr. Patricia Patterson, professor of education and director of graduate education programs and Dr. Patricia Sherblom, associate professor and program director of PE K-12 are currently working with two local school districts and hoping to expand in the near future.

The grant also supports the recruitment and retention of education majors at the College. Both efforts are seen as essential to bringing highly qualified young teachers into Delaware public school districts—and keeping them there.

“Too often, students who have a lot of potential as teachers drop out of teacher-education programs,” notes Dr. Patterson. She believes Wesley can help stem that loss of talent by providing education students the Success for Life (SFL) program designed to support undergraduates with potential to be successful in reaching K-12 students in high needs populations in our partner districts.  Dr. Steven Groccia, assistant professor of physical education serves as the SFL Program Coordinator.  Participating teacher candidates gain personal and professional knowledge and skills to improve their chances for successful degree completion.

The scope of SFL activities include skills for self-evaluation, access to academic and cultural resources that can eliminate barriers to success; team building, problem solving, and outreach / leadership opportunities with K-12 students and peers in the SFL program.

A $400,000 Longwood Foundation grant to establish a master’s degree in occupational therapy will likewise have ripple effects as it not only will afford students training in a high-demand field but also will bring additional qualified occupational therapists to the Delmarva Peninsula. The new degree will provide a long-term revenue-producing program for the College, too. The program in occupational therapy should be in place within the 2016-2017 school year.

“As with alumni contributions, successful grant applications are vital to Wesley’s continued growth and preparation of our graduates,” said Dr. Gibson. “This success inspires additional success both in the classroom and beyond.”