The demand for qualified professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is high, but the supply of STEM workers to fill these positions is at risk, especially if underrepresented groups are not engaged in these fields. According to the National Action Council for Minorities in Education, underrepresented groups earned only 12.5 percent of all STEM degrees in 2011.
Like many institutions, the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University has struggled with lower recruitment and retention rates of these students. That struggle may have gotten a bit easier thanks to a grant of nearly $955,000 from the National Science Foundation.
The award will provide five-year merit scholarships to students enrolled in the Academy of Engineering Success, or AcES, which is an academic success and professional development bridge program designed for first-time freshmen in the Fundamentals of Engineering Program. The program was established in 2012 by Ordel Brown, teaching associate professor, as a way to help freshmen who are at-risk academically develop a set of skills that will help them succeed in the College’s engineering programs. Initial funding for the program was provided by the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium.
“Poor retention rates for underrepresented groups have been attributed to factors such as academic and institutional isolation, unsupportive peer and family communities and financial obstacles,” Brown said. “This award will allow us to provide five-year merit scholarships to academically talented, financially challenged engineering students with the focus on first-generation college students, females, African-Americans and Hispanics.”
Students enrolled in AcEs come to campus one week ahead of other freshmen for a week-long series of activities designed to acclimate them to campus life. Included are a design project competition, a team-building and engineering problem-solving field trip, academic success skills workshops and seminars and social events with faculty and staff from the Fundamentals of Engineering Program. Once the semester begins, they are enrolled in a two-hour AcES Orientation course, which allows them to explore career options in engineering. They also receive one-on-one peer and faculty mentoring as well as customized academic counseling.
Brown will work to enhance AcEs curricular and co-curricular student support services, strengthen its partnerships with local and regional engineering companies and assess the impact of curricular and co-curricular activities of student success. She will be joined in this effort by Melissa Morris, teaching assistant professor in Fundamentals of Engineering, Robin Hensel, assistant dean of Fundamentals of Engineering, and David Wyrick, associate dean for academic affairs.
“The research parallels the College’s long-term diversity and retention goals and the outcomes are anticipated to go beyond that to positively impact West Virginia and the U.S. in general,” Brown said. “We hope that by supporting an under-utilized pool of potential engineering talent, we will provide diversity that is so essential to a globally competitive national workforce.”
Project partners include WVU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education, Noblis, Mosites Construction Co., Exterran, Antero Resources, Swanson Industries, Protea Biosciences and Kennametal.
CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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