Dr. Javier Kypuros, an associate professor in mechanical engineering and a presidential fellow, said he and other faculty members in the College of Engineering and Computer Science have seen more students enter college better prepared to take rigorous classes in recent years. But there are still too few students who have the mathematics skills to pursue degrees in engineering and computer science.
"It seems as though they've been prepared to take an exam, and that has impacted the way we teach students," he said. "We're having to figure out ways of introducing critical thinking skills without taking away from the rigor or the content of the existing course."
That's why with a $1.66 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation he received May 8, Kypuros is hoping to ensure more students enter college ready to succeed in engineering, computer science and other programs related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
UT Pan American was one of just nine institutions nationally to be awarded a grant through a partnership between the NSF's STEM Talent Expansion Program (STEP), Intel and GE called Graduate 10K+. The partnership awarded a total of $10 million to the institutions that submitted projects that focused on increasing the retention of undergraduate students in engineering and computer science programs.
UTPA was selected out of a total of 283 applicants and 57 of those that were eligible to compete for the Graduate 10K+ funding. The only other Texas institution to receive funding was The University of Texas at Austin.
Kypuros and fellow investigators on the grant plan to use the money to enhance existing programs and resources to better prepare incoming students for the rigors of higher education, specifically, engineering and computer science programs.
The project, called "An Ecosystem for Success in Engineering and Computer Science in Rio South Texas," will:
• develop dual enrollment programs for high school students who show strong skills in mathematics;
• create a bridge program for incoming first-year UTPA students who show potential in engineering and computer science but lack the level of math skills, especially calculus;
• provide supplemental instruction to students enrolled in "gatekeeper" courses -- typically sophomore-level classes that introduce students to their majors -- who may have trouble mastering the coursework; and
• train upper level engineering and computer science students to tutor and mentor freshmen and sophomores.
"In essence it furthers those initiatives, but it does it within this larger umbrella that's not just focusing on pedagogy, but also focuses on success of students," Kypuros said.
He called the grant award a great kick start to the University's efforts to better prepare students who plan to study engineering and computer science and said his hope is that the programs developed under this grant will serve as a model for higher education institutions nationwide.
"It seems that the stars are aligning, we're aligning with strategic interests of the United States, with strategic interests of the University and the greater Valley and the strategic interest of STEM, especially other colleges of engineering and computer science," Kypuros said. "This is an incredible opportunity to really jumpstart things we've been talking about for some time."
The grant will begin Sept. 1.
Kypuros, along with UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, College of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Dr. Miguel Gonzalez and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Horacio Vasquez, who is a co-principal investigator on the grant, received the award in a ceremony the NSF had in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Steven Crown, professor of mechanical engineering, Dr. Arturo Fuentes, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Dr. Virgil Pierce, associate professor of mathematics, are also co-principal investigators of the grant.
Kypuros said he and fellow faculty members working on the grant are grateful to Dr. Robert Wrinkle, professor of political science, Thelma Leal, an institutional research analyst, and Felipe Salinas, a grant writer at UTPA, who assisted them in developing the grant application.
For more information about the grant, visit http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1317661.