School of Engineering and Technology Receive NSF Grant

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Big changes are in store for the School of Engineering and Technology thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation. In an effort to increase collaboration and “STEM identity,” the school partnered with the University of Memphis and the University of Colorado at Denver to write a proposal to the NSF for the Urban S-STEM Collaboratory. The proposal was accepted, and the IUPUI school will receive roughly $1.7 million over a 5-year period.

Dean David Russomanno anticipates the project will have a direct impact on the lives of students in regards to scholarship opportunities, recruitment and retainment.

The School of Engineering and Technology. (Photo from Inside IUPUI)

According to statistics outlined in the initial proposal, the IUPUI school currently has a one-year retention rate of 65 percent for direct-admit students, whereas students who are admitted through University College has a first-year retention rate of 46 percent. While these numbers increase from year to year, Russomanno sees this grant as an opportunity to improve retention and graduation rates.

IUPUI will have 50 students split between two cohorts, similar to a learning community. To be admitted to one of the cohorts, a student must first show financial need.

“You have to be eligible for federal financial aid in some form. They have to have an ‘unmet need’,” Russomanno explained. “After that, it’s some of the typical criteria. If it’s an incoming freshman, their high school GPA and SAT scores would be a factor.” The school plans on collaborating with local high school counselors to reach potential applicants.

The school is also striving for a diverse applicant pool.

“Engineering has suffered from underrepresentation in regards to women and other underrepresented groups, such as African-Americans, Native American and Latino students,” Russomanno said. “We want to be sure that we’re making an extra effort to ensure that we have applications from underrepresented groups. All applicants are eligible, but the key for us is ensuring that there is an applicant pool that reflects diversity.”

According to Russomanno’s estimates, 15 percent of the students in the IUPUI School of Engineering and Technology belong to racial and ethnic minority groups. While the University of Memphis and the University of Colorado at Denver report their numbers at 36 percent and 23 percent respectively, the IUPUI school is not far off from the national average. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only around 22 percent of professional engineers belong to these underrepresented groups. However, Russomanno sees the diversity as the key to American success.

“We’re hoping to see a diverse cohort, because the challenge we have in engineering and other areas is building the diverse workforce that our nation absolutely must have to remain to have it’s competitive edge,” Russomanno said. “If we look throughout the world, there’s a lot of competition, so we want to continue to see the U.S. be a leader in innovation, and that requires diversity in the workforce.”

Once the cohorts are formed, the school plans to employ current students to lead recitations to help other students.

“We’re teaming with the mathematics department, because mathematics, calculus, for example, is a barrier for a lot of students when it comes to retention. We’ll have other undergraduates who recently completed a course and did well, and we’re going to employ them as team leaders for recitation sessions for working with their peers,” Russomanno said. “You don’t have the intimidation of the graduate student or professor coming in and working on issues outside of class that maybe a student is struggling with. We’re hoping for a lessening of a barrier with students working with other students, and building that support structure.

Pursuing an engineering degree can be lonely at times it’s hard, it’s demanding especially for those who didn’t build a strong STEM identity may feel that they don’t belong, when the reality is, many students are experiencing the same thing,” Russomanno continued. “With that network and that support system, you’re more likely to stick with it and ultimately succeed. And we need more students pursuing fields like engineering.”

And that’s where networking comes into play.

“At the kick-off this summer, we’ll have a Summer Bootcamp to start to try build our community among our STEM scholars. One feature of the grant is trying to enhance STEM identity among the scholarship recipients, and that will start at the boot camp. One of the features that we’re using is some very innovative software called CourseNetworking--which is a company that was started by a faculty member from our school [Dr. Ali Jafari], and we have the cyberlab here at IUPUI, and they’ll be collaborating with us.”

CourseNetworking, as Russomanno explained, is similar to Facebook but with a focus on academia. Students at IUPUI will be able to use the program in order to build their community in Indianapolis, as well as connect with students in Memphis and Denver, and around the world. Russomanno hopes that the implementation of this program will lead to internships and job placement after graduation.

Before this partnership between the three urban universities began, the IUPUI school already had several relationships with local companies, including Eli Lilly Co. and Crane, that have led to student success.

“Indianapolis is a great city to support STEM in general,” Russomanno said. “We have numerous productive partnerships with industry and government, and that is a defining feature of this STEM collaboratory, all three universities are trying to strengthen their relationships with industry to further support the project.”

Russomanno hopes that those students participating in the project will be able to find work opportunities wherever they happen to look.

“A defining feature of our school and IUPUI in many ways is that we really think of Indiana first in terms of economic development and contributing to the workforce,” Russomanno said. “But nevertheless, we want opportunities for our students all over the country and all over the world. We have many students who work abroad. So, bringing opportunities for students to go elsewhere is something we don’t want to shy away from.”

“We want our students have maximized their opportunities in life. But it is a point of pride that many of our students elect to stay in Indiana,” Russomanno said.

Of the available funds, $1 million is exclusively set aside for scholarships throughout the five-year period.

The program officially kicks off next month.


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