A closer look at the Pioneer Program

Posted on November 07, 2011 in News
By Kathryn Rodway

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Freshman physics and engineering major Deedra Zeeh is one of the eight inaugural students in USM’s Pioneer Program, Maine’s first STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) honors program.

“Being chosen for this program is such an honor and an extreme opportunity,” said Zeeh, who graduated in the spring from Massabesic High School in Waterboro. “It was just the type of thing I was looking for in college.”

USM became the first school in the state this semester to start an honors program focusing on the STEM fields. The Pioneer Program offers a scholarship package to outstanding Maine high school graduates who are pursuing a career in a STEM field and who exhibit leadership skills. The package includes a full four-year scholarship, room and board in Gorham, paid summer internships and the opportunity to do research with faculty members. The program also requires an undergraduate thesis as a capstone.

Applicants for the program are required to have a minimum 3.50 GPA in the sciences and SAT scores in math of 650 or higher.

Program Director Michael Wing said the project is a response to a shortage of Mainers trained in the STEM fields.

“We’re looking for Maine’s future, what we want to see is these incoming freshmen leave USM with new skills, and become leaders in these industry” he said.

A proposal for funding further highlighted the need for the program, tying its goals to Maine’s economic future. “The need for our best and brightest science and engineering students has never been higher, especially in Maine where the innovation economy is key to future economic growth.”

Most initial funding for the program is coming from the University Of Maine System Strategic Investment Fund. A $158,000 startup grant will cover the first year.

According to a business proposal for funding from the Strategic Investment Fund, the estimated budget for the program is $538,000 over the next three years.

The majority of the budget goes to scholarships for the students, with $80,000 estimated for the first year and $100,000 for the next two. The increase is estimated because, while the inaugural class of Pioneer recipients consists eight students, the program goal is to accept 10 students each following year.

$50,000 is allotted in the proposal for the part time salaries and benefits for the program’s director.

Another $8,000 is allotted in the first year, and $10,000 in following years for student laptops.

Finally, $20,000 is estimated in the first year and $30,000 in the following years for various faculty stipends and programming expenses.

The estimated yearly cost is $158,000 in the first year and $190,000 in the following years.

According to the business proposal, the Pioneer Program will seek funding for project from the National Science Foundation in the fall of 2012.