Low-income and underrepresented communities comprise an insignificant fraction (less than 0.5%) in the environmental workforce, particularly in engineering and management positions. The authors' institution is the only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) that offers undergraduate degrees in Water Resources Management (WRM) and Environmental Engineering (ENE). The goal of the NSF sponsored Undergraduate Scholarships for Advancing Education Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Water Resources Management (USE4WRM), an S-STEM grant is to increase the recruitment and retention of the academically talented students majoring in ENE and WRM programs, but also those who are in need of financial assistance through scholarships and other required academic support. USE4WRM aims to ensure the contribution of the workforce from the disadvantaged communities to these specialized fields. It is designed to support the qualified students in academic performance, persistence, graduation, job placement, and entry into graduate schools.
The USE4WRM program will recruit student cohorts of totally 14 high school students ( 7 males and 7 females) into ENE (8 students) and WRM (6 Students) programs in its five year grant period. They will receive scholarships, mentoring, tutoring and personal development for four years. The program was started in Fall 2016 with four freshmen and in Fall 2017 it has identified another three freshmen. Under the guidance of the ENE and WRM faculty, the students form a learning community combining the curriculum with experiential learning through undergraduate research and internships. Academic performance indicators of the cohorts and responses from the scholar surveys are used in program assessment. An external evaluator team evaluates the success of the USE4WRM program.
In the first year, two male and two female applicants were recruited through the application process and supported with $7500 / academic year scholarship. In Spring 2017, three of them were in ENE program and one was in the WRM program. They enrolled in the First-Year Seminar course specifically designed for STEM students to guide on the academic and social life in the institution. Two scholars involved in summer research and mentoring opportunities. In Fall 2018, all three scholars have been identified for the paid undergraduate research. Although one student from the first cohort was dropped out of the USE4WRM scholarship due to the lack of academic performance, he continues to be an ENE major.
The program spent Fall semester of 2016 and Spring semester of 2017 on engineering accreditation efforts. The reviewers had recognized USE4WRM grant as a major strength of the program in improving the preparation of incoming freshman and their ability to maintain a steady stream of cohorts. The program will use its ABET accreditation status from May 2017 to recruit qualified students into ENE and WRM programs. The Knowledge gained within ENE and WRM programs can be extended to other STEM fields. This program will also reduce the underrepresentation in the growing water and environmental professions to address the imminent needs.
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