Recipients will receive an $8,500 annual renewable award.

UWA students will also receive other academic activities 

Story: Phillip Tutor | Photo: Betsy Compton

Dr. John McCall, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of West Alabama, is an unabashed fan of UWA’s biology program. The reasons are numerous, though one sits firmly atop his list.   

“Our biology program has transformed from being a fairly traditional small-school biology program where the kids go to class and they learn,” he said, “to being a hands-on program where students are actively engaged in undergraduate research.”

That transformation, McCall said, is deeply intertwined with the success of a 2014 scholarship program, Biology Opportunities and Scholarships for Success, or BOSS, funded through a $609,000 National Science Foundation grant.

That success has begat more opportunities. Last year, the NSF awarded UWA’s Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences a $1.5 million S-STEM grant (Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) that will fund a similar project — Biology Opportunities and Scholarships for Success II, award number 2128109. The project, which McCall describes as “a larger, more ambitious program” than its predecessor, will run for six years and is designed for undergraduate students. The application deadline is April 15.

BOSS II recipients will receive annual scholarships of $8,500 that are renewable for up to four years. When possible, stacking other UWA scholarships could further reduce financial obligations for qualified students and their families.

Applicants for BOSS II scholarships must enroll in one of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences’ majors. UWA expects to reward 30 students through the project, divided into three cohorts of 10 students each for the next three years, McCall said, and is actively recruiting eligible high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Biology Professor Dr. Mustafa Morsy is UWA’s principal investigator for the BOSS II project. Along with McCall, Drs. Jeffery MeridaMark Davis and Lee Stanton are co-principal investigators.

Besides the financial support, the undergraduate research component of the twin BOSS projects is a major selling point, McCall said, and rests at the heart of the department’s transformation. By stressing research, student internships and attendance at professional-level meetings and conferences, BOSS II provides students with real-world experience to pair with their academic classwork. The NSF grant will also fund a host of other student activities, including a summer boot camp, a well-being assessment, tutoring sessions and academic counseling involving metacognitive study techniques.

Some of those opportunities were prominent in UWA’s previous BOSS project.

“We had undergraduate students that went to research meetings around the country and gave presentations,” McCall said. “They were doing internships. We had students that interned at Yale (University).”

While he credits the initial BOSS project for its role in the biology department’s transformation, he’s quick to explain that “we had a lot of people doing a lot of things outside of BOSS” who were equally important. An example of their influence, he said, is the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ University Research Symposium held annually on UWA’s campus for more than a decade.

In 2011, the first symposium featured 12 student presentations. Since then, the symposium has swelled to include presentations from more than 450 students and 73 faculty mentors. This year’s symposium will be held March 8-9 at UWA’s Bell Conference Center. Morsy is the event’s chair and co-founder.

That symposium is one of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics’ most attractive features, McCall said. As for the BOSS II scholarship project, “It’s a great opportunity,” he said.