NSF GAIN Scholars program

Diversifying the graduate ranks remains a major challenge for most universities. Historically underrepresented groups (HUGs), such as Native American, LatinX and African American populations continue to be poorly represented in many fields, particularly STEM professions and those requiring doctoral degrees.

Since 2014, the University of Nevada, Reno Graduate School has developed and implemented GradFIT, a 5-day graduate student recruitment and preparatory boot camp for first-generation college students and HUGs completing their sophomore to senior year of undergraduate education. 

Following the success of GradFIT, the Graduate School will soon begin GradFIT Phase II, funded by a National Science Foundation Innovations in Graduate Education (NSF-IGE) award, referred to as the NSF GAIN (Graduate Acceleration through Innovation and Networking) Scholars Program.

What is included in the program?

GradFIT Phase II: Enhancing Diversity by Changing Institutional Culture and Scaffolding Student Success is a two-year program designed to increase the retention and success of historically underrepresented groups in graduate programs. GradFIT Phase II will have incoming domestic Ph.D. students engage in two 3-week summer boot camps as well as additional professional development, mentoring, and social network support activities during their first year and a half of graduate school.

GradFIT Phase II consists of the following modules for students:

  • Module 1: Skill Assessment and Individual Development Plans
  • Module 2: Family Support/Family Life Education (FLE)
  • Module 3: Smartphone App Development Boot Camp
  • Module 4: R-based Statistical Analysis
  • Module 5: Computational Tools for Big Data
  • Module 6: Virtual/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) and Outreach to Rural Communities

The program, which begins Summer 2021, provides a scalable and sustainable approach for diversifying the graduate ranks and can serve as a model to other institutions for increasing program satisfaction and degree completion rates across all graduate student populations. Additionally, outcomes from this project will generate new knowledge concerning best practices for recruitment and retention of historically underrepresented populations.  

Associated faculty and staff

The project is a collaboration between administrators, educators, engineers and scientists from the University of Nevada, Reno’s (UNR) Center for Advanced Media Studies, the Colleges of Education, Engineering, and Science, the Graduate School, the Graduate Student Association and the School of Community and Health Sciences. A list of participants and their role(s) in the project is below.

  •  David Zeh, Project Director and Principal Investigator
  •  Matthew Aquirre, Project Co-Director  - Mentor/Mentee Training, Faculty Training
  •  Veronica Zepeda, Project Co-Director - Mentor/Mentee Training, Faculty Training
  •  Eelke Folmer, co-Principal Investigator (PI) - Smartphone App Development; Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) and Service Learning
  • Matthew Forister, co-PI - R-based Statistical Analysis; Project Assessment
  • Karla Wagner, co-PI - Social Network Analyses (SNA)
  • Bridget Walsh, co-PI - Family Life Education (FLE); Project Assessment; SNA
  • Anne Leonard, FA - Individual Development Plans (IDPs) and Skills Assessment
  • Julie Lucero, FA - FLE; Service Learning
  • Anna Panorska, FA - R-based Statistical Analysis; Project Assessment
  • Thomas Parchman, FA - Computational Tools for Big Data
  • Yu Yang, FA - R-based Statistical Analysis
  • Gi Yun, FA - VR/AR and Service Learning; SNA

About the NSF Innovations in Graduate Education Program 

The NSF-IGE program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, and potentially transformative approaches to STEM graduate education training. The program funds proposals that explore ways for graduate students in research-based master’s and doctoral degree programs to develop the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed to pursue a range of STEM careers. The goals of IGE are to pilot, test and validate innovative approaches to graduate education and to generate the knowledge required to move these approaches into the broader community.