DoD Grant Helps Forge Path from Community College to Engineering Careers for Underrepresented Groups by providing ‘College Capital’
Employers in Colorado and throughout the nation seeking to fill engineering and other STEM jobs are coming up short – especially from the hiring pool of historically underrepresented groups.
“The United States is much more diverse than our engineering workforce,” says Mark Golkowski, associate dean of Education and Student Success in the College of Engineering, Design and Computing (CEDC) at the University of Colorado Denver. “The only way we can keep our state and national economy competitive is to broaden the access and appeal of engineering degrees.”
As a key partner in a multi-million-dollar, U.S. Department of Defense grant, CU Denver seeks to do just that. In addition to CU Denver, the six-year grant is led by the University of Colorado Boulder and includes five metro Denver community colleges (Aurora, Denver, Front Range, Red Rocks and Arapahoe.)
Together, the partnership will establish a direct pathway to recruit and enroll students from underrepresented minority groups, women, and military veterans into participating community colleges to pursue careers in engineering.
“Often, students from underrepresented backgrounds may not have access to college-educated mentors in their personal networks to guide them. These students also face additional barriers to social, financial, and professional support,” Golkowski says. “This grant helps us close the gap on college capital,” Golkowski says.
Initially, up to 125 students per year from the community colleges of Aurora and Denver will enter the program. During years four to six, the program will expand to include the three remaining community colleges and add more students.
Participating students will be assisted throughout every step of the multi-year, year-round pathway. Graduating high school seniors who prospectively enrolled in a partner community college as part of the initiative will attend a summer bridge program, supported by a stipend, to prepare for the next steps in their education.
Once students begin studies at a partner community college, they will receive intensive wrap-around academic and social support. Dedicated student support specialists guide students through regular check-ins, proactive advising, and facilitating additional academic or financial assistance.
Since more than half of the students entering U.S. community colleges have not completed college-level math, the program will specifically target developmental math-level students to help ensure learners are calculus-ready in one year. Additionally, most community college students work, but the job settings aren’t typically in their field of study. Through the program, students pursuing their associate degree can begin participating in paid summer research internships at CU Denver after their first year of studies are complete.
Program participants receive ongoing undergraduate transfer guidance from partner four-year institutions throughout their experience. After completing prerequisites, students are guaranteed transfer to CU Denver or CU Boulder should they choose to pursue a degree in engineering or computer science. Co-located on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver, CU Denver already offers defined engineering direct transfer pathways for Community College of Denver students.
“Community colleges are a gateway to higher education for a large number of students, especially those underrepresented in STEM and engineering fields,” Golkowski says.” “CU Denver has a long tradition of serving transfer students from community colleges, as well as veteran students. Funds from this grant will give us important resources to serve these students more effectively and in larger numbers.”
Once the students are enrolled at CU Denver, they will be able to take advantage of many of the support services recently amplified by the CEDC and will be housed in the College’s new building. These include dedicated peer mentoring, mandatory advising, student learning communities and opportunities to join thriving affinity groups like the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers and Society of Women Engineers.
“All of this support structure is to build perhaps the most important college capital of all, a sense of belonging and purpose on the challenging journey of an engineering career” Golkowski says.
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At the CU Denver College of Engineering, Design and Computing, we focus on providing our students with a comprehensive engineering education at the undergraduate, graduate and professional level. Faculty conduct research that spans our five disciplines of civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, bioengineering, and computer science and engineering. The college collaborates with industry from around the state; our laboratories and research opportunities give students the hands-on experience they need to excel in the professional world.
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