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K-State Leads Project ARISE to Support Rural and Military-Connected Students Pursuing STEM Careers


By Patrice Scott, K-State Division of Communications and Marketing


MANHATTAN, Kan. — The National Defense Education Program recently awarded Kansas State University’s Rural Education Center and its partners a $4 million grant to enhance opportunities for rural and military-connected students interested in pursuing STEM careers.

The grant brought together three critical partners — the Rural Education Center, the Center for Remote Sensing and Integrated Systems at the University of Kansas, and the University of Tennessee Space Institute. The project is just one of 13 funded, and it’s one of only two STEM-related grants awarded from the National Defense Education Program.

The project, Applied Research and Innovation Scholarship for Engineering Students in Advance Aerospace Technologies, AI, and Cybersecurity, or Project ARISE, will provide a pathway to career opportunities for students through three phases.

• Phase 1: An advanced aerospace technologies exploration experience for high school students rising into grade 12.
• Phase 2: An early research incubator program for incoming college freshmen and community college transfer students.
• Phase 3: A guided research and internship experience training for undergraduate students who complete the first two phases or community college transfer students who complete the second phase.

The four-year program is expected to impact more than 420 students and provide 222 annual scholarships for at least 102 rural and military-connected students over four years. The project will also prioritize underrepresented student populations from rural and military-connected schools.

“Rural and military-connected students bring extraordinary life experiences and perspectives to every academic field, and we are elated that this grant program will harness their aptitudes and creativity into 21st century solutions for Kansas and our nation,” said Debbie Mercer, dean of the K-State College of Education.

Project ARISE will be led by lead principal investigator J. Spencer Clark, professor and director of the Rural Education Center in the College of Education at K-State. To date, Clark has led grant projects for the Rural Education Center that total more than $11 million.

Other team members contributing to the project include University of Kansas faculty members Shawn Keshmiri, Heechul Yun and Drew Davidson; and John Schmisseur, executive director of the University of Tennessee Space Institute and rural Kansas native.

“Project ARISE allows us to grow the pipeline of STEM-focused rural students from our previous grant, Project LEAPES, and support them during their postsecondary studies in advanced fields such as hypersonics, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, contributing to the Kansas STEM ecosystem and economy,” Clark said.

Project ARISE will provide summer programming for approximately 80 rural and military-connected high school seniors and 24-48 college freshmen and community college transfer students, as well as research and industry experiences for 24-48 undergraduate students each year, according to Clark.

The Department of Defense, through the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, recently announced grant awards totaling up to $53 million to 13 organizations under the National Defense Education Program. The grants support the defense education programs in manufacturing engineering, STEM scholarship programs, civil society programs, and enhanced civics education programs. The ARISE grant focuses on STEM scholarship programs.

“In an era of global competition, the United States needs its next generation to be civic-minded, technically proficient, and eager to tackle the challenges of the 21st century,” said Heidi Shyu, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “These awards are investments in our national talent base, geared toward ensuring our nation is able to maintain its military, economic and technological edge.”

School districts interested in participating in the Project ARISE scholarship program should email the Rural Education Center at [email protected].