Newswise — The University of Texas at El Paso’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department was awarded $1 million from the National Science Foundation to help low-income, academically talented undergraduate students in engineering successfully advance to graduate studies. 

The Pathways to Success in Graduate Engineering (PASSE) program focuses on understanding and supporting the critical transition from undergraduate to graduate engineering studies. The five-year project’s objectives are to create an innovative, multi-faceted support ecosystem for students transitioning from undergraduate to graduate education; implement a mentoring structure to train students as researchers; and analyze the students' pursuit of graduate education. Researchers will focus on supporting and understanding the transition between undergraduate and graduate education, an area that has not been thoroughly studied.

Leading the effort at UTEP is Patricia Nava, Ph.D., the grant’s principal investigator. She is joined by co-principal investigators Danielle Morales, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, and Miguel Velez-Reyes, Ph.D., professor of electrical and computer engineering.

“If successful, this support system has the potential to not only increase success rates of engineering graduate students at the University, but also to improve success at other institutions that apply it,” Nava said. “As a result, this project can help meet the critical national need for a well-trained STEM workforce, particularly the need for more engineers.”

The project will contribute to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by providing three-year scholarships to 20 students who are pursuing fast-track bachelor-to-master's degrees throughout UTEP’s College of Engineering.

The research is expected to produce a model for student success that will be disseminated nationally. As a result, it can help to increase the number of students who enter STEM careers, particularly low-income students who are first-generation and from populations underrepresented in STEM.

The project is funded by NSF's Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which seeks to increase the number of low-income, academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who earn degrees in STEM fields.

“No conceptual model is currently available to orient understanding of the dynamic role of educational interventions in student development through time,” Velez-Reyes said. “Therefore, the project has developed a novel three-stage student developmental trajectory model that will frame its research.”