WINSTON-SALEM – Salem Academy and College has placed a high priority on STEM education in recent years, helping more women and girls develop and deploy their skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

So it’s only fitting that NASA – sitting at the forefront of science and technology – has taken notice. The space agency has awarded Salem Academy and College a three-year grant worth nearly $750,000 to attract and retain women in STEM degree programs and careers.

Salem student pipette

Science student at Salem Academy and College. -Photo from Salem Academy and College

“We are honored to be chosen among our elite sister institutions to continue the vital mission of promoting women’s leadership in the sciences,” said Summer J. McGee, PhD, the president of Salem Academy and College and a member of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Triad regional advisory committee. “We will do our part to help propel women into the future, including NASA’s plans for an all-female crew to the moon.”

The Winston-Salem institution, consisting of liberal arts Salem College and the Salem Academy high school for girls, is one of just seven women’s colleges and universities nationally to receive the STEM grants from NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Grants totaling $5 million were announced earlier this month by NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project as part of an ongoing initiative from the Biden Administration to increase the diversity of the federal workforce.

STEM Gender Gap

The NASA funding program is designed to address the STEM gender gap in higher education and the workforce.

While women earn nearly 60% of all U.S. undergraduate degrees, only a tenth of these degrees are in a STEM field, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. In the workforce, just 27% of STEM jobs are filled by women.

NASA’s own workforce follows these patterns. The agency says 26% of its scientists and engineers are women.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy called the grant program a “first” in working with women’s colleges and universities to address the STEM gender gap. “It’s more important than ever we have brilliant, enthusiastic people entering the workforce and ready to take on the ambitious plans and challenges ahead,” said Melroy, a Wellesley College graduate.

Boosting Interest in STEM

On the Salem campus in Winston-Salem, the NASA funds – the school’s first grant from the space agency – will be used to attract students to STEM degree programs and careers.

Under the school’s “Soar with Salem” program, on-campus summer programs will expose high school students to science, math and arts programs as well as academic support. Current Salem students will mentor the high school students.

The program also will expand Salem’s existing affiliation with North Forsyth High School and create a new partnership with the United Way of Forsyth County.

The Salem College curriculum includes a focus on healthcare. Preparing students for careers and graduate programs in health-related fields depends on academic preparation in math, writing and the sciences, Salem noted in a news release announcing the NASA funding.

Nancy Johnston, executive director of the NCBiotech Piedmont Triad region, said the NASA grant will help Salem Academy and College give women and girls the academic readiness they need to pursue STEM education.

“Salem has long been one of the leading institutions for women’s education, not only in North Carolina, but nationally,” she said. “It’s going to be exciting to see these students prepare to become leaders in science and technology.”

(C) N.C. Biotech Center