Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Miami Dade College Program Develops Students into Researchers

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Miami Dade College Program Develops Students into Researchers

Article excerpt

Compelled by his desire to expose Hispanic and Caribbean students to careers in computing and engineering, Dr. Miguel Alonso Jr., chair of Miami Dade College's School of Engineering and Technology, used a $1 million-plus grant from the National Science Foundation to open a computing research lab in 2010. Today, the lab serves as a resource where students are developed into researchers and encouraged to apply their skills to solve real-life problems.

"Most Hispanic parents want their kids to become doctors or lawyers, so there's not a lot of push for Hispanic students to go into engineering," says Alonso. "We reach out to students that aren't really sure what they want to do, and we expose them to interesting things in engineering. They get to see that there's a lot of benefit in it and that they can actually do it."

Hispanic students have earned a larger percentage of college degrees at all levels every year for the past 10 years, but they are still underrepresented in the engineering field. According to the American Society for Engineering Education's 2012 Profiles of Engineering and Engineering Technology Colleges report, Hispanic students make up 11.4 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees, but are more than 16 percent of the total U.S. population. Further, Hispanic students only comprise 8.9 percent of all graduate engineering degrees and only 6.2 percent of all engineering Ph.D.s.

"What happens is [students] usually stick around for the first four years, and then they're really not encouraged to continue," explains Alonso. "The Hispanic culture is very family oriented, and they really don't want their kids leaving anywhere," which can be problematic if the STEM education options around them are lacking.

This is where the computing research lab steps in. The lab funds six students each year, many of whom are Hispanic, to spend 10 to 15 hours per week researching and developing projects of their own or advancing projects that other students had begun.

One such project is the Skin Cancer Identification System (SCIDS), an Android-based mobile application that functions as an early warning sign for skin cancer. The idea, first developed by Lisa Richardson, a former electrical engineering student, was one of the first projects developed in the first year of the lab. …

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