A new $1 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant will help give Florida A&M University (FAMU) engineering students tools to thrive and graduate.
The Retaining Undergraduate Engineering Students through Experiences in Industry, Entrepreneurship, Community Engagement and Research grant supports a new program called Educating Engineering Students Innovatively (EESI, pronounced “easy”). Its goal is to improve the success and retention rates of FAMU undergraduate engineering students —by specifically targeting sophomores and juniors.
Led by Charmane Caldwell, Ph.D., director of Student Access at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, the program is designed to help undergraduate engineering students who often can get overwhelmed with the experience of navigating their college education, are struggling financially and drop out before they find the support they need.
“The grant is based on a new program we piloted last year,” said Caldwell, principal investigator for the NSF grant. “The idea is to introduce students to different engineering tracks based on their interests and to fund their passion with scholarships that allow them to focus on their studies.”
The grant provides multi-year scholarships for more than 40 students over the next five years. EESI targets sophomores and juniors because those are the years usually overlooked nationally when considering persistence of engineering students.
“We are delighted to gain the NSF’s support for this innovative retention programming developed by Dr. Caldwell and her colleagues,” said J. Murray Gibson, dean of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. “Enhancing the success of our students is a top priority for us.”
In addition to scholarships, the program supports evidence-based academic and professional development activities within four major tracks: industry, entrepreneurship and innovation, community engagement and research. The program aims to equip students with professional and technical skills that will lead to employment or to an advanced STEM degree program after graduation.
“Traditionally, students have the opportunity to research in a lab or have an internship over the summer,” Caldwell said. “These tracks and scholarships allow students to stay in school, work on their classes and engineering projects before their senior year.”
The scholarships range from $2,000 to $4,000 per semester. The new EESI program focuses on FAMU students who are enrolled in biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering at the college.
Institutional data shows that while FAMU attracts and enrolls first-year engineering students at a desirable rate, a large number do not graduate with engineering degrees. Caldwell hopes the broader impact of the new project will be students who stay engaged and find support during the early development of their engineering studies, leading to better retention and quality engineers in the STEM workforce.