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Justin Conner grabbing petri dishes in lab

Giving matters

Read more in the OSU Foundation newsletter
Justin Conner, senior zoology student and recipient of the Provost Scholarship, and Christine and David ’76 Vernier share a passion for the sciences and bringing minority students into the field.

Alumni fund program to enhance diversity and leadership among STEM students

Call them the "little bangs" of science education: those exciting "Wow!" moments when students see theory translated into real life, and it suddenly makes sense.

Since 1981 Vernier Software & Technology has sparked countless such moments around the world by producing laboratory tools and curricula used in biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering classes from elementary school through early college. Founded by high school physics teacher turned entrepreneur David Vernier ’76, who earned his master’s in general science at the College of Science, and his wife, Christine Vernier, the Beaverton-based company helps science educators in more than 120 countries engage students with hands-on learning through high-tech teaching tools.

Turning on the light in a student’s eyes is just the first step on a long journey to a science career, the Verniers say. Their recent $500,000 gift commitment to the College of Science will help Oregon State turn sparks of interest into lasting flame.

The new Vernier Program for Mentoring and Diversity in Science—PROMISE —will focus on building leadership in science among women, underrepresented minorities, and first-generation college students with strong potential.

Incorporating such things as mentoring and outreach programs, conferences and guest speakers, academic support services, and scholarships, PROMISE will help the College of Science increase in diversity and provide a smoother path toward graduation.

"We often lose these students early on," says Christine Vernier, a past member of the college’s Board of Visitors. She serves on the board of the Triangle Coalition for STEM Education, a national organization that advocates for improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education for all students. "Some just need a little more help to get through, and this is a way we hope to make a difference."

David Vernier notes that lack of diversity in STEM fields represents a missed opportunity for society as well as for individuals.

"These are great careers and some of the best paying jobs. And when you have a mix of people working on a problem, you get more ideas for solving it," he says.