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Unique scholarship program available for STEM students

February 24, 2020

High achieving, low-income NIU juniors and transfer students who BELONG in STEM are encouraged to apply for a scholarship opportunity.

Now in its second year, the BELONG (Building Engagement in Laboratories, Networking and Peer Groups) in STEM scholars program provides selected students scholarships of up to $5,000 each for as many as three years. The National Science Foundation S-STEM program awarded NIU last fall with a $1 million grant to offer the scholarships.

Along with the scholarships, the students will become part of a cohort guided by faculty and other mentors and be encouraged to take part in research and internship opportunities. While the program targets NIU juniors and transfer students, students who will be seniors next fall will be considered as well.

A review of applications will begin on March 1 and continue until all scholarships are awarded. Students are encouraged to apply here.

“This is a significant amount of scholarship money, and it also gives students a group of science majors that can help support each other,” said Timothy Hagen, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Students in the current BELONG in STEM cohort participate in a peer support group weekly and work closely with graduate students, said Nicole LaDue, an associate professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, who has worked with Hagen on the project.

Ralph Wheeler, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, has spearheaded the effort.

“The program provides not only significant scholarship money, but also supportive peer networking and fantastic professional development opportunities,” Wheeler said.

All involved saw the need to offer students both financial aid and the social and academic support they need to graduate.

The program gives students, many of whom are first-generation students or the first in their families to pursue STEM fields, the chance to connect with peers in their majors, said LaDue, who remembers struggling during her first year of graduate school because of a lack of connections

“I want to see our students build those relationships,” she said. “The program provides a community and a home.

“I think for all the faculty and graduate students involved we really feel it’s paying it forward,” she said “There are people that helped us, and this is our way of making sure there is support around to help them.”

Qualified applicants must be U.S. citizens or legal residents, have a preferred minimum GPA of 3.0, provide outstanding letters of recommendation, submit a strong personal statement and be able to show a demonstrated financial need as determined by FAFSA.

The scholarships are open to students majoring in:   


Chemistry or biochemistry.


Computer science.

Biological sciences.

Geology and environmental geosciences.


 Students who won’t yet have junior-level status by next fall should keep this opportunity in mind for the future. NIU intends to award nearly 50 BELONG scholarships over a five-year period.

Still have questions? Visit the BELONG in STEM Scholars Program website.