Skip to main content

Villanova University Receives National Science Foundation Grant to Conduct Fellowship Boot Camp for Underrepresented Students

Villanova University Receives National Science Foundation Grant

VILLANOVA, Pa.—A leader in STEM professional development for underrepresented students, Villanova University’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships has received a $143,532 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to conduct a Fellowship Boot Camp for underrepresented students. Villanova’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, in partnership with experts from the University of Notre Dame, will offer the “Boot Camp” at a major conference of underrepresented minority students and faculty later this month.

The nation’s minority populations remain significantly underrepresented at the PhD level in all STEM fields. Program managers at the NSF, and fellowship advisors at colleges and universities, have discovered that many minority students—applicants who are otherwise well qualified in education and experience—are underserved in the area of application support, specifically in the development of self-presentation skills necessary to win a major fellowship, get into graduate school, and secure their jobs of choice.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant from the NSF and to have the opportunity to conduct this important work. While students at some universities are offered recruitment presentations for fellowships, preparation workshops, and professional advising in order to develop such self-presentation skills, these services are often lacking at schools that do not have the resources or human capital to offer such professionalization training to their students,” said Dr. Michael T. Westrate, the primary organizer of the project and Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at Villanova University.

“Without this support, minority students are less likely to be successful in securing a fellowship—and are therefore less likely to get into and complete graduate school,” continued Dr. Westrate. “This project delivers a remedy for that lack of support by offering exactly this kind of self-presentation training—both to students who will be future faculty and to the current faculty and administrators mentoring them.”

The program will take the form of an eight-part “Boot Camp” at the Compact for Faculty Diversity’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, Oct. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla.—the largest gathering of minority doctoral scholars in the country, with more than 800 students and 200 faculty in attendance. The Boot Camp will cover the topics of self-presentation skills, NSF grant requirements and the NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP), the largest student fellowship program in the United States. The presentations are open to all Institute participants, but will focus on invited students and faculty from three different Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation alliances, who will be funded to attend. A professional evaluation team will provide data on the success of the project, and the results will be widely disseminated.

The primary goal of this project is to increase the fellowship application success rate for underrepresented minority students by delivering, to the largest group possible, the same professionalization training that students receive at Villanova and Notre Dame—as well as to assist professors and administrators who wish to learn best practices in such training.

“The eventual goal is for the Boot Camp to be replicated at other institutions, providing excellent support for underrepresented students,” added Dr. Westrate.

Prior to arriving as Director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at Villanova this past summer, Dr. Westrate spent nine years at Notre Dame—where for the past three years he offered the highly successful NSF GRFP Boot Camp Support Series upon which this current program is modelled.

For more on Villanova’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, click here.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six collegesthe College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit