Diverse Services for a Diverse Student Body

essUNM School of Engineering students are a diverse group with varied cultural, academic, and ethnic backgrounds. Many are the first in their families to pursue a college education. They range from traditional students to employed professionals returning to complete their education. And they come from various locations-pueblos and rural areas in New Mexico, small and large cities throughout the US, and other countries. A student body this diverse has many different needs.

That's why Engineering Student Services exists: to provide academic resources, professional development advice, and community building experiences for students pursuing engineering and computer science at UNM. "The mission of ESS is to increase retention and graduation rates in the School of Engineering," says Steve Peralta, director of Engineering Student Services. "ESS does this with one-on-one advisement, community building, and activities that encourage leadership skills, diverse ideas, and teamwork."

ESS serves students like Margaret Hauer well. A senior in mechanical engineering, Hauer is Vice President of the UNM Society for Women Engineers and is active in the Hispanic Engineering and Science Organization. She participates in numerous ESS activities, receives academic advisement from ESS, and has earned several scholarships administered by ESS. She says their support has made all the difference in her education. "I would not have done all the things I did at UNM without getting involved from the very beginning, which ESS encouraged," she says. "I believe ESS plays a big role in the success stories of UNM engineering students."

Developing the Pipeline

The ESS team is responsible for everything from recruiting new students to helping SOE graduates with career placement. They look at their wide range of responsibilities as creating a steady stream of students interested in pursuing engineering and computer science. "Developing the pipeline is important because we really want to get more students into technical fields," explains Peralta. "Even at a very early age, we try to encourage, excite, and engage kids in math and science."

The recruiting and outreach process starts with the very youngest learners - even kindergartners - and extends through high school. The 15-member ESS team, as well as SOE faculty and advisors, make presentations for elementary, middle, and high school students; help with science fairs; attend high school college fairs; and coordinate the School's annual open house. ESS also offers summer science and math pre-college programs, including two intensive four-week summer residential programs that help high school students prepare for the rigors of UNM's engineering and computer science curricula.

The ESS pipeline efforts are a success, as evidenced this past fall when 487 pre-majors (freshmen and sophomores not yet admitted to a specific department) enrolled in the SOE. "This is the same number that the SOE had at its highest level. It represents an increase of 12 percent each year over the past three years," says Peralta.

Nicole Baty embodies the pipeline. As an 8th-grader she joined the Pre-College Initiative (PCI) offered by the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) at UNM. The PCI encourages K-12 students' interest in math, science, and engineering through activities and leadership building. The program ignited her passion for engineering. Now she's a sophomore in chemical engineering, president of the UNM NSBE chapter, and manager of the school's very successful PCI program. "UNM NSBE-PCI showed me how and why people are passionate about science," she says.

Orientation and Advisement

ESS advisors smooth the transition to college by involving all incoming SOE freshmen and transfer students in a special engineering orientation, which includes advisement, team building exercises, classroom and lab tours, as well as an individual meeting with an ESS professional advisor.

Admission to the SOE as a pre-major is unique - at UNM and throughout the nation. "At other engineering schools, beginning students usually have to wait until they complete their math and science prerequisites before they begin working directly with the engineering staff and faculty," says Peralta. "Here we combine a focused orientation, internal advisement, and in-person meetings to meet individual student needs."

Scholarship Support

Finding funding for college can be a student's biggest challenge. It can be an even greater hurdle in New Mexico, where a significant number of college-bound students come from families who are at or below the poverty level. Fortunately, through ESS, students have access to financial aid counseling, scholarships from a variety of federal, private or corporate funding sources, and other resources to help them finance their education.

Elsa Castillo manages the SOE General Scholarship program in collaboration with SOE Associate Dean for Academics Chuck Fleddermann. Castillo has streamlined the process so that students can apply for a variety of SOE endowed and private scholarships administered through ESS by submitting just one application. She processes the information and forwards it to the SOE academic departments, which offer additional scholarships. These SOE scholarships usually supplement others offered at the university level.

The ESS team and SOE faculty work on other ways to help students finance their education through proposals, grants, undergraduate research, graduate fellowships, and outside resources from foundations, corporations, and individual donors. "We work hard to help students fund their education so they can concentrate more on their coursework," says Castillo. "However, because not all deserving SOE students can be accommodated, we are continuously seeking additional funding from private or corporate sources."

Iris Gallegos, a senior in mechanical engineering, has taken full advantage of ESS scholarship programs and Castillo's guidance. "Elsa has been a tremendous help and I'm grateful for everything she's done for me," says Gallegos. Based on her merit and academic excellence, Gallegos has been awarded three separate scholarships, some for several years in a row. "The scholarships provided through ESS have been an enormous help," she says. "With the scholarships I have received, I don't have to work and I am able to focus more on my studies."

In return, Gallegos participates in the new SOE Scholars Program developed by Castillo. The program requires scholarship recipients to volunteer a few hours a semester as a way of giving back to the school and organizations supporting their education. "The value of these interactions has been great," notes Gallegos. "I met some of the scholarship donors in person and was able to thank them for their generosity."

Diverse Student Organizations

The SOE student body reflects New Mexico's multicultural population and strong Hispanic heritage. More than 47 percent of SOE undergrads are Hispanic, Native American, Asian, or African American. ESS staff and advisors encourage SOE students to join student organizations and their national affiliates. Four student organizations have offices in the ESS department: American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), Hispanic Engineering and Science Organization (HESO), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and Engineers Without Borders (EWB).

These organizations offer valuable support, educational and professional opportunities, as well as social outlets. Students don't have to be part of an ethnic or minority group to participate, and the organizations accept students from other schools and colleges.

Support organizations for women include the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program and the Society for Women Engineers (SWE), which provide networking, mentoring, enrichment activities, and career development.

Native Americans in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (NASTEM) is a resource program that helps recruit and retain Native American students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines and in business. It's also an important resource for students, offering financial assistance, career development services, mentoring, and social networking.

Recently, NASTEM began offering $1,000 scholarships to of services to help engineering and computer science Native American students in STEM disciplines and business. Maurice Thompson, NASTEM program coordinator, says the goal is for many of the Native American students to return home after graduation. "One of our primary missions is to provide a pool of students for tribal and native communities. We want the students to go back to their communities with their degrees and provide assistance."

Diverse Career Opportunities

At the end of the ESS pipeline stand corporate recruiters like Vince Cordova, section head at Procter & Gamble. Part of his job is to recruit for the company's Product Supply Division, which includes purchasing, engineering, manufacturing, and logistics. Cordova attends SOE career fairs and actively supports HESO.

The combination of diverse students, interdisciplinary programs, and the focus on integrating teaching, research, and practice makes UNM SOE a great place to recruit students. "Our students are ethnically diverse and study in a multicultural environment so they know how to communicate and work with other types of engineers," explains Peralta. "Companies like P&G want people who already have those qualities."

"The leadership of ESS helps students understand the opportunities offered by companies like P&G and prepares them well for interviews," says Cordova. He adds that P&G's involvement with UNM SOE is a smart investment. Last year P&G hired six full-time employees from the SOE and provided summer internships for two students. "In terms of overall diversity and the student programs offered, UNM SOE is outstanding. It's an excellent school," says Cordova.

Thanks to ESS and its focus on providing a diverse set of services to help engineering students succeed, Cordova and recruiters like him are sure to find even more highly qualified recruits at the SOE in the years to come.