By Marlys Amundson

The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science plans to double the number of qualified students from traditionally underrepresented communities receiving degrees in engineering and physical science in the next five years. Through a $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, UCLA and partner schools will expand current retention programs to increase the number of graduates in these fields.

The program, overseen by Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Stephen Jacobsen and Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity (CEED) Director Enrique “Rick” Ainsworth, will help raise awareness of engineering, math and science opportunities among incoming and undergraduate students. The effort also will help students successfully transfer from community colleges to UCLA and California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA).

“For California to remain a leader in advanced technology,” notes Jacobsen, “we need to better engage all segments of our population.”

In response to the growing shortage in the United States of qualified, domestic professionals in engineering and the sciences, the NSF created the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics Talent Expansion Program for Underutilized Populations (STEP-UP). The projected shortage, along with increased competition for talent from other nations will lead to a crisis unless a concentrated effort is made to ensure that students from all demographics are well prepared to enter the workforce, and meet the need for talented and skilled engineering professionals.

The NSF grant recognizes UCLA Engineering’s demonstrated success in the retention of underrepresented students. The partnership will allow the School to share resources and proven approaches to expanding the pool of qualified engineering and science graduates. Spearheading the STEP-UP programs at UCLA, CEED brings more than 20 years of experience in successfully fostering diversity in the engineering and high-tech workforce, and is responsible for directing multiple programs that help educationally disadvantaged and underrepresented students achieve the highest levels of success in math, science and engineering.

An advisory board of industry partners and faculty from a number of disciplines will help shape the program, refining existing outreach efforts and suggesting new methods of increasing student retention. Notably, Dwight Streit, vice president of Foundation Technologies at Northrop Grumman, will help direct the initiative. Streit’s perspective as a member of industry will ensure that the needs of the School’s corporate partners are represented as the program moves forward.

By working with CSULA and regional community colleges, UCLA educators will expand existing programs to reach additional students who might not otherwise consider careers in engineering and science. These activities include an intensive academic summer program, career and academic workshops, and courses and transition programs designed specifically to prepare incoming freshmen and transfer students to succeed in the sometimes challenging engineering and physical science core classes. Targeted undergraduate research programs will provide the students hands-on research experience and the opportunity to work closely with faculty and graduate students in their chosen fields.

“Through an exchange of ideas and experiences with administrators at regional institutions, we’re helping to better prepare community college students to transfer to the university,” explains Ainsworth.

Main Image: CEED undergraduate rsearchers at a poster session on September 1, 2005, with CEED Director Rick Ainsworth (far right) and CEED Research and Academic Coordinator Audrey Pool O’Neal (far left). Image Credit: Anthony S. Johnson.