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$1.5 Million Grant to Foster Engineering and Computer Science Student Success

National Science Foundation Support to Bolster Hispanic STEM Education
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To increase the retention and graduation rates of primarily Hispanic and other underrepresented students majoring in engineering and computer science, a new effort is being launched this fall at Cal State Fullerton supported by a nearly $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation.

Sudarshan Kurwadkar, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is directing the project titled “Building Capacity: Advancing Student Success in Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science.” The effort also aims to reduce the high repeat rate in lower-division gateway courses for engineering and computer science students, and to lower the achievement gap.

“Economic disparity, family obligations, cultural conditioning and prior academic preparation create an uneven competition between these students and their economically better-off counterparts, thereby perpetuating the achievement gap,” Kurwadkar said.

“This implies that underrepresentation of minority and female populations in STEM majors is a systemic problem that requires not only academic interventions, but also socio-cultural interventions. This project is particularly important to tackle these challenges and improve undergraduate education in engineering and computer science.”

Faculty members co-directing the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) effort are: Jidong Huang, professor of electrical engineering; Salvador Mayoral, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Doina Bein, assistant professor of computer science; Antoinette Linton, assistant professor of secondary education; Paulina Reina, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Yu Bai, assistant professor of computer engineering.

Each year, 200 students will be selected to participate in the project, with 50 of these students participating in a first-year research experience, where they will work in teams on a yearlong design project with a faculty adviser from each of the disciplines within the College of Engineering and Computer Science. The first class of 200 students for the grant-funded effort will be selected this fall.

“Through this project’s holistic approach to learning, it will increase students’ retention and improve their chances of being successful in STEM majors, and ultimately, prepare them to be ready for the needs of the 21st-century engineering and technical workforce,” Kurwadkar said.

The grant is from the National Science Foundation’s “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program.” CSUF was named a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2004 — a designation accorded by the U.S. Department of Education to nonprofit educational institutions with at least a 25 percent Hispanic student population. Hispanics constitute more than 40 percent of the student population at CSUF, where nearly 70 percent of those enrolled are students of color.