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Press Release

Statistics Department Receives $447,000 Federal Grant for Low-Income Student Scholarships, Mentorship

Contact: Nick Wilson


SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly’s Statistics Department, in the College of Science and Mathematics, has received a $447,000 grant award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help with financial support and to mentor low-income students to continue their higher education in graduate programs.

Statistics Professor Andrew Schaffner works with a student writing equations on glass walls
Cal Poly statistics Professor Andrew Schaffner works with a student as others look on. Schaffner is the chair of the Statistics Department.

The grant is part of a $5 million funding investment involving multiple West Coast universities through the Pacific Alliance for Low Income in Statistics and Data Science program supported by the NSF’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program.

Financial access has proven to be a barrier for many lower-income and historically underrepresented students in the field of statistics and data science, especially for those who wish to continue with graduate studies.

The Pacific Alliance program aims to broaden the pipeline of graduates with advanced degrees and provide access to not only academic careers, but also positions in industry as senior/leadership level statisticians and data scientists.

Pacific Alliance will provide sustained financial support, research opportunities and mentoring to students as they transition between undergraduate and graduate education.

“Creating opportunities for underrepresented groups is needed to foster more diversity and equity in higher education and especially in graduate programs,” said Andrew Schaffner, a Cal Poly statistics professor and chair of the university’s Statistics Department, who obtained his doctorate from the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. “Highly qualified students with limited financial resources can be dissuaded from preparing for or pursuing graduate studies in statistics and data science because they need to limit their time in school or take on extra employment that distracts them from their studies.”

Beth Chance and Mackenzie Noto
Cal Poly statistics Professor Beth Chance meets with student Mackenzie Noto in 2019.

The three-year bridge program will begin engaging student participants at the end of their sophomore year or following their transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions.

UC Santa Barbara and University of Washington are the lead institutions for the grant, which also includes UC Irvine and four California State University campuses: Cal Poly, CSU Monterey Bay, CSU East Bay and San Diego State.

Of Cal Poly’s funding award, $360,000 is earmarked for scholarships. Students who take full advantage of the program will get up to $30,000 distributed over their junior and senior years, as well as in their first year of graduate school, or up to $10,000 per year.

The additional $87,000 awarded to Cal Poly will cover costs including the mentoring program, assessment of objectives, annual meetings, and graduate fairs for all program scholars. A live virtual advanced statistics course also will be offered for all Pacific Alliance scholars to take together across their respective campuses.

“With this new NSF funding, we’re able to offer need-based scholarship support and mentoring for motivated students so they may turn their attention to their graduate education goals,” Schaffner said.

Scholars will be matched with faculty mentors and senior graduate students in their respective institutions to provide support for getting engaged in research opportunities on campus and external programs promoting graduate study.

The program will assist students with exploring graduate education opportunities and navigating the application process and will offer exposure to professional pathways, forming a community to improve inclusion and equity.

Cal Poly’s Statistics Department is working with the financial aid office to formalize its application process and expects to provide the first scholarships beginning next fall.

About College of Science of Mathematics

The college of about 2,800 undergraduate and roughly 280 graduate students offers degrees in biology, chemistry, kinesiology and public health, physics, mathematics, statistics, marine science, microbiology, and biochemistry. The college is also home to the university’s undergraduate Liberal Studies program for future teachers and Cal Poly’s post-baccalaureate School of Education. The college, which embraces Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing mission, is an esteemed institution, noted for outstanding undergraduate research and significant student co-authorship participation on scientific journal publications.