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WVSU moves Full STEAM Ahead with biotechnology program

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INSTITUTE – A bioenergy research program at West Virginia State University is one step closer to fruition with a $100,000 grant from the West Virginia Research Trust Fund, or Bucks for Brains. The award follows a $300,000 donation from American Electric Power, announced last month.

The Full STEAM Ahead program will support research in the science, technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics (STEAM) fields, provide internships for undergraduate students, and expose youth in grades K-12 to energy-related education, according to a news release from West Virginia State.

"This initiative will build expertise in the area of bioenergy by integrating research, outreach and teaching activities," said Orlando F. McMeans, vice president for research and public service, noting that bioenergy research has been identified as a core component of WVSU's research strategy. "To ensure success, a new research scholar with proven experience in the field will be hired to lead the project."

The incoming faculty research and teaching scholar will mentor graduate and undergraduate students and teach a bioenergy-related curriculum. One graduate student will be selected to participate in a bioenergy fellowship program. Administrators hope to bridge undergraduate research to the graduate fellowship.

"We want to identify promising undergraduate students for the bioenergy research program and offer options for continuing graduate education in biotechnology," said McMeans. WVSU has offered a master's degree in biotechnology since 2004.

The program will also establish 10 internships for freshmen and sophomore students, as well as utilize an energy-related curriculum to reach K-12 youth. WVSU's Center for the Advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (CASTEM) is partnering with WVSU Extension Service's 4-H program to provide outreach instruction in after-school and classroom settings throughout the region.

"We will be introducing agriculturally focused content," added McMeans about the outreach component. "We want to educate students at a young age about the connectivity of agriculture and energy."

The West Virginia Research Trust Fund, also known as Bucks for Brains, is an endowment that supports expansions to research faculty and infrastructure in areas such as energy, biotechnology, engineering and environmental science.