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Montgomery College Receives $7.5M Award to Train Student Researchers Through NIST Professional Research Experience Program

Montgomery College Alum Rebekah Newby

The Professional Research Experience Program (PREP) is designed to provide valuable laboratory experience and financial assistance to undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and faculty. The program is intended to assure continued growth and progress of a highly skilled science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) workforce in the United States.

Montgomery College (MC) received a five-year cooperative agreement award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology through its Professional Research Experience Program, (NIST-PREP). The NIST-PREP award, which began April 1, 2023, will provide up to 250 placements annually for MC students at NIST’s laboratories in Gaithersburg, as well as research opportunities for current MC faculty. The new project continues the NIST-PREP project at MC, which has run from 2018 to 2023.

The new five-year award provides up to $7,461,117. Students selected for NIST-PREP will have the opportunity to work with research mentors at NIST, and will receive stipends as well as professional development and mentoring. They are eligible to participate in multiple terms, and can be appointed to NIST internships when they transfer to four-year institutions with NIST-PREP awards.

The new program builds upon MC’s first NIST-PREP cooperative agreement award, adding significant student support, mentoring, and professional development opportunities. MC has received NIST funding since 2012, when 11 students interned at NIST in a pilot program. In 2014, NIST awarded the College a NIST Measurement Science and Engineering (MSE) cooperative agreement award that supported over 100 internships. During the first NIST-PREP project from 2018 to 2023, 125 students received a total of 228 internship placements, meaning many students received more than one appointment. One faculty member also received a research appointment.

Montgomery College Student working in lab

At Montgomery College, the internship pays between $16 and $17/hour for up to 20 hours per week during the semester and up to 40 hours/week during the summer.

Students have served in several NIST laboratories, including Communications Technology, Engineering, Information Technology, Material Measurement, Physical Measurement, and the Center for Neutron Research. Students who have received NIST internships represent a wide demographic range. Over one-third (35%) Black/African-American or Hispanic; over one-quarter (26%) Asian; just under a third (30%) White, and the remainder Multi-Race/Unknown. Slightly more than half (56%) male; 44% are female. The NIST program is intended to increase the recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of undergraduate and graduate students pursuing STEM degrees, with attention to historically marginalized groups (women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) in STEM.

Dr. Jermaine F. Williams, president of Montgomery College, lauded the award, citing the close partnership that the College enjoys with NIST: “The College is thrilled with this award—the second largest competitive federal award in MC’s history. NIST-PREP represents a milestone in advancing undergraduate STEM research experiences. The program’s intentional outreach to underserved students will strengthen their readiness for employment and enhance their potential career pathways.”


Research areas include (but may not be limited to) artificial intelligence, biochemistry, biological sciences, chemistry, computer science, engineering, electronics, information technology, materials science, mathematics, nanoscale science, neutron science, physical sciences, physics, social sciences, scientific/technical writing, science and technology policy, and statistics.

The project leadership team includes Dr. Alla Webb, chair of physical sciences, engineering, computer science, cybersecurity and networking for the Germantown and Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campuses, who will serve as principal investigator and Professor Susan Bontems, professor of chemistry, who will be co-principal investigator. Professor Farnaz Eivazi, professor of computer science and networking, and Professor Khandan Monshi, professor of computer science, will share duties as PREP manager.

Dr. Sharon Fechter, senior vice president for academic affairs added, “Working directly with NIST researchers, MC students are involved in cutting-edge research gaining real-world experience, while working with mentors to prepare for STEM careers.”