NEW BRITAIN — Working 30 hours a week while trying to earn a degree in physics and math was no easy task for Jeremy Bradford. Now a 33-year-old graduate of Central Connecticut State University, Bradford is now a Ph.D. student at Yale.
Bradford decided to go to college after seven years in the workforce because he realized business was not for him. Paying for college proved to be difficult though, especially when he became a full time student in his second year.
At one point, he considered leaving CCSU, he said, but receiving the university's Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics (CSMP) Scholarship helped him decide to stay in college.
"This scholarship was a big reason why I stayed, because it meant I wasn't going to accumulate as much student debt," Bradford said.The CSMP Scholarship Program provides up to $5,400 annually to students who demonstrate academic talent, financial need and who are pursuing a degree in computer science, mathematics or physics. It also gives recipients access to additional faculty and peer counseling, research opportunities, seminars and job placement assistance.
Financed by two consecutive grants totaling over $1 million from the National Science Foundation, the scholarship program has aimed to support 20-25 students annually since 2005, said CSMP Program Director and computer science professor Stan Kurkovsky.
Recent graduate Daniel Tobin said the scholarship allowed him to focus on getting good grades rather than splitting his time between school and work. Today, Tobin works at Hypack Inc., a company that makes software to chart the depth of rivers.
Before Tobin began programming, he thought computers were magical. "I didn't understand how they worked," Tobin said. "I figured the people who programmed them were geniuses and I didn't know if I'd be able to do it."
The CSMP program aims to encourage students like Tobin, who may be reluctant to enter STEM fields.
According to Bradford, many people are intimidated by math and science, but they just need a new perspective.
"You have to fall in love with it," he said. "Once you can understand science and some basic math that goes behind things, the whole world and the universe unlock and it's the coolest thing to experience."
Melissa Mulcahy, who is entering her senior year majoring in computer science, said choosing CCSU was a no-brainer for her because of the opportunities provided by the CSMP program. She has attended video game conferences and programming research competitions through the scholarship's funding.
Through these experiences, Mulcahy found an outlet for creativity in STEM. "It's a new way of looking at things and creating new solutions," she said. "You can have one problem, but you can solve it 10,000 ways."
For 27-year-old Mikalai Filon, now an actuarial assistant at Travelers, the best part of the program was the connections he made. He said faculty mentoring gave him someone he could always turn to for advice.
Kurkovsky explained that fostering connections with students and local businesses through the CSMP program is meant to keep high achieving STEM students in state after they graduate. You invest in your students by educating them, he said, so you want them to work in your state afterward.