Establishing a STEM Scholarship Through Your Ministry

Establishing a STEM Scholarship Through Your Ministry January 17, 2024

A scholarship program is one of the best ways to demonstrate your love for your community. The joy and relief it brings aspiring STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) students and their families is immeasurable, and it’s a great way to support congregants in their dreams. 

From developing the criteria for a scholarship to legal requirements and selecting candidates, here’s all you need to know about establishing a STEM scholarship program through your ministry.

Why Create a STEM Scholarship?

The impact of STEM careers goes beyond technical ability and knowledge. It’s a field that nurtures critical thinking, and creates the next generation of problem solvers who advance impactful technology and ideas. Development continues to increase, with STEM jobs projecting growth of 10.8% in the next decade.

However, out of 3.5 million jobs opening up, only 1.5 million may be filled because of a skills gap. There are several reasons why this skills gap will exist and finances is one of them. By establishing a STEM scholarship program, you help students who dream of being in STEM to get one step closer.

1. The Costs Go Beyond the Scholarship Fund

Establishing a scholarship requires an initial amount of money to set up the program and keep it running. It will cost less if you run the fund as a ministry, but working with a management service may be beneficial to keep track of applicants and make payments to the relevant institutions.

You must decide on the type of scholarship you want to provide. Is it one-time, renewable or annual? This could be an award that runs every year or a program that funds students throughout their degree until they graduate.

Additionally, establish the amounts you’ll issue. Is it a full scholarship with tuition, books and accommodation, or partial, with only one or two criteria covered? For STEM, factor in costs like equipment or computer software subscriptions.

2. You Need Specific Eligibility Criteria

Once you have the budget, it’s time to draw up eligibility requirements for the program. Since it’s a STEM scholarship fund, some areas to consider include:

  • Academic achievement: Should applicants have a specific GPA when they apply?
  • Leadership: Is your focus on a good academic record only, or do you want those who have shown leadership ability in the church or in the community?
  • Inspirational students: Are there particular students in your ministry who have demonstrated skill or determination? To provide just one example, the Watermark Scholar program was awarded to two women who overcame difficult circumstances so they could pursue their careers. You may want to structure your program similarly. 
  • Demographics: Consider students who may need the most help — perhaps high school graduates from underprivileged families, women or students of color.
  • Application details: Consider creative ways for students to apply, like a video submission instead of an essay. Some modern STEM scholarships create competitions or projects that solve a community problem.
  • Education level: Will the scholarship be for recent high school graduates, current undergraduates or graduate students? Recipients should submit a transcript with their application to prove their enrollment.

3. A Selection Committee is Essential

You should have at least three individuals who will review the applications and decide who gets the funds. If a member has family applying, make sure to have impartial and objective rules in place to determine awardees.

Consider inviting people in church or ministry with STEM backgrounds to join the board. You could also get them further involved as mentors who pass on their knowledge to upcoming world-changers in the program. It’s a great way to shepherd the new generation of STEM students and keep different generations connected.

4. It’s Wise to Follow IRS Guidelines

When the students receive their scholarship, ensure you’ve followed all IRS guidelines to prevent tax deductions. These guidelines include:

  • Direct educational costs: The funds must go towards direct educational expenses like tuition, fees and course material.
  • Nondiscriminatory criteria: You should award the scholarship objectively and the criteria should be broad enough for a wide group.
  • Institution: The student’s institution should be a university or college with a regular faculty and curriculum.

How to Establish a STEM Scholarship Program Through Your Ministry

Based on these considerations, here are steps to take when establishing a scholarship program:

  1. Decide on the type, amount and length of scholarship.
  2. If you have donors, confirm their commitment to provide funds. Create the necessary accounts or administrative processes for handling the money.
  3. Write out the criteria for application.
  4. Assemble an advisory board or selection committee. 
  5. Advertise the scholarship. You should make at least two public announcements in church and on your website or social media pages.
  6. Accept applications within a reasonable deadline.
  7. Award the scholarship.

People holding hands in a circle

Creating Lasting Impact with a STEM Scholarship

Investing in the lives of aspiring STEM students in your ministry is a beautiful way to support families in your church community. A fund with the right criteria and processes ensures the scholarship program will continue to change lives for generations.

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