Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Minority Programs at Worcerster Polytechnic Keep Students on Track

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Minority Programs at Worcerster Polytechnic Keep Students on Track

Article excerpt

If the U.S.A. is to slay competitive with other global countries, more minorities, particularly T.atinos, must graduate from science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) programs. Because the minority population is rising faster titan the majority population, minorities must thrive in math or science, or the country could face a brain drain in the next decade. In Massachusetts, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which specializes in engineering and science, has created a program dial provides academic training and social support to help minority students succeed in STEM majors.

The goals of the Excellence in Math, Science & Engineering Program (EMSEP) are to increase die success rates of minority students In STEM programs, retain diem and increase educational career opportunities at WPI for Latinos. African-Americans and Native Americans. The ethnic breakdown of EMSEP is 40 percent Latino students, 48 percent African-American and 12 percent other. All students participating in the program earned their way into WPI and were accepted by the college based on dieir own merits.

How difficult is it to earn a degree in engineering? A recent engineering graduate from Drexel University said, at a workforce panel in New York sponsored by an engineering association, that he was told at freshman orientation to look at the person to liis left and right and one of Üiem will Likely not graduate from college with a degree in engineering. Engineering is so demanding dial half of the majors switch to something easier.

However, retention has not been a major problem at WPI. Because it sets high standards for accepting students, 87 percent of its incoming freshmen in 2007 managed to graduate in 2011 and 83 percent of its freshmen from 2006 graduated in 2010, numbers that are above the norms for engineering majors.

Excellence in math has created a support system for minority students that boosts retention, says Janet Richardson, vice president of student affairs and academic life. Three staff members, a faculty or academic advisor, resident advisor and orientation leader work one-on-one with each student. Since WPI has a cycle system in which students take 12 classes a year, they are taking mid-terms nearly a mondi after arriving as a freshman. If a student doesn't do well on the lest, one of the three faculty members will inquire what problems aie going on. If a student is arguing with a roommate, a faculty member will intervene and help solve the problem. "Having people there at all stops along the way, making sure how a student is doing academically and socially, helps students stay on track," Richardson says.

In fall 2011, 3,627 undergraduates attended WPI. Of its student population, 69 percent were while; 8 percent, Latino; S percent, Asian-American; 3 percent, African-American; and 3 percent, mixed race, WPI's most popular majors include various forms of engineering, including mechanical, biomedical, electric, computer, chemical, aerospace and computer science. Nearly one-third (31 percent) of its students were female, and 69 percent were male.

EMSEP at WPI launched in 1993, started by die Office of Minority .Affairs - now called the Office of Diversity· and Women's programs. EMSEP's strategies included promoting collaborative learning, effective study habits and test-taking skills, and providing more one-on-one counseling to minority students. WPI knew that recruiting minority students into the demanding college was a starting point, but retaining diem and enabling them to graduate with engineering degrees would represent the finish line.

Another mission of the Excellence in Math program is to "reach out to those populations that are historically underrepresented in the STEM profession and ignite their interest in STEM fields and occupations," explains NaTonia Trammel], director of diversity programs at WPI, who oversees EMSEP. Unlike at most traditional liberal arts colleges, nearly every WPI student is involved in STEM since the college specializes in engineering. …

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