UHV receives federal grant to improve STEM education

A $645,677 National Science Foundation grant recently received by the University of Houston-Victoria has a goal of helping to increase enrollment, retention and graduation of low-income students majoring in mathematics and computer science.

Jeffrey Di Leo

“This is an exciting award intended to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education in our region,” said Jeffrey Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. “The grant will support underrepresented students to help meet the industry demand for STEM professionals and continue that effort by attracting and retaining STEM students in the Victoria area.”

The grant will be used to help bolster regional economic development and community development in the Coastal Bend. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Gulf Coast Region has greater employment opportunities than the national average. In addition, computing-related occupations are among the fastest-growing in the local area, the Greater Houston area and the state of Texas. This project aims to help meet this need by increasing the number and diversity of graduates who have the computer and mathematic skills needed in high-demand fields.

Joann Olson

“This is the first grant UHV has received from the National Science Foundation, and our team has been working on this project for a while, so I’m excited to see the hard work has paid off,” said Joann Olson, UHV associate professor of adult and higher education and co-principal investigator on the grant. “I was a first-generation college student myself and lived in a rural area so I understand what grants like these mean to the students and community. The grant will help us provide support to that demographic.”

There are several key elements to the grant, Olson said. With the funds, the university will focus on increasing student enrollment in computer science, information technology, digital gaming and simulation, and mathematics programs, improving student support programs at UHV and creating a STEM learning community on campus with faculty mentorship to support student retention.

Beginning in the fall, the grant will provide $7,750 scholarships annually to 15 talented, low-income rural students with demonstrated financial need over a five-year period. Students enrolled in Victoria Independent School District are eligible to apply for the grant. The project will be led by Alireza Tavakkoli, UHV associate professor of computer science and chair of UHV’s STEM division. He will serve as the project director and principal investigator.

Alireza Tavakkoli

“This grant allows the university to better serve STEM students,” Tavakkoli said. “It will help us engage new students and help advance their efforts in obtaining an education at UHV.”

Beginning in the fall, scholarships will be awarded to students. The following academic year, a new building will become available to the students. UHV anticipates its new 63,000-square-foot STEM building to be finished by August 2019. The building will be located on campus in front of University Center and will include lab space for biology, physics, chemistry, organic chemistry, computer science, microbiology, computer engineering and mathematics. It also will feature classrooms, faculty and staff offices, an immersive 210-degree screen lab, a seminar room and gathering spaces. Thanks to this expansion, UHV will have the ability to add additional programs, such as engineering, in the future.

For more information about the grant or how to apply for scholarships, contact Alireza Tavakkoli at 361-570-4204 or

Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Ashley Strevel 361-570-4342