TEES, Texas A&M-Kingsville receive $1 million NSF grant for science, engineering and math students
KINGSVILLE, Texas - Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station have received almost $1 million from the National Science Foundation for a major student recruitment and retention program at the university. The five-year project, "TAMUK STEP: A Model for Student Success and Persistence," aims to provide access to science, engineering and mathematics degrees for the predominantly Hispanic population of the South Texas region served by Texas A&M-Kingsville and to increase the availability of a trained technical workforce for the state primarily by focusing on six South Texas community partners: Del Mar College, Coastal Bend College, Palo Alto College, San Antonio College, St. Phillips College, Southwest Junior College and South Texas Community College. "This is excellent news that allows us to expand recruitment efforts, conduct educational research and partner with community colleges to build a pathway to four-year degrees in engineering, mathematics and science," said Texas A&M-Kingsville President Rumaldo Z. Juárez. The award was jointly developed by engineering and science faculty at Texas A&M-Kingsville, regional community colleges and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES). The fiscal agent for this project will be TEES, the engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System. Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor for engineering of the A&M System, said "This is a great example of how TEES fulfills its statewide mission of creating partnerships that secure federal dollars for Texas to support our work in engineering and science. Through partnerships like this one with TAMU-Kingsville, $1 million in federal funding comes to Texas, allowing our brightest researchers to engineer a better future. The citizens of Texas ultimately benefit most." The number of Hispanics earning bachelor's degrees in engineering in 2002-2003 remained flat from 1999-2002, while the Hispanic population of the United States rose to 13 percent. In addition, Hispanic students have been shown to be less likely than any other group to leave their home region for education or careers, putting Hispanic Serving Institutions like A&M-Kingsville in a strong position to meet educational needs. With research showing that first-generation and underrepresented students are predisposed to begin their higher education at community colleges, TAMUK STEP will partner with five regional community colleges like Del Mar to keep students moving ahead to degree completion in science, engineering and math disciplines. It is anticipated that the TAMUK STEP program will affect 1,200 students over five years, with more than 55 percent of those students to be Hispanic. Principal investigator Dr. Kuruvilla John, associate professor of environmental engineering and associate dean of the Frank H. Dotterweich College of Engineering at A&M-Kingsville, said that the project will attempt to accomplish several key objectives through innovative approaches such as establishing peer advisers programs at community colleges; initiating faculty learning groups to develop recruitment and retention strategies; enhancing a foundational course at the freshmen level; and providing research experiences at the undergraduate and community college levels. Additionally, science, engineering and mathematics student chapters and engineering professionals will mentor TAMUK STEP students. In conjunction with TAMUK STEP is a redesign of the university's introductory course in engineering that will allow freshmen students to get a taste of all the disciplines more hands-on lab and research experience. In the past, students received their research experience in their senior year. The TAMUK STEP project management includes Texas A&M-Kingsville engineering and science faculty Dr. Ali Pilehvari, Dr. Hector Estrada and Dr. Daniel J. Suson, and Dr. Blanca "Rosie" Garcia of Del Mar College. Texas A&M-Kingsville and Del Mar College are both TEES regional divisions, with $10 million in funded projects from the National Science Foundation that were developed through TEES.