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College Launches "Step Forward" Program for High School Students

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Krista Kuhl
PROMES program manager, John Matthews, chats with a group of Wheatley High School students at the Step Forward kick-off event held at UH on Sept. 29. Students joined their mentors for an afternoon of math contests and challenges.  Photo provided by Kathy Zerda.
PROMES program manager, John Matthews, chats with a group of Wheatley High School students at the Step Forward kick-off event held at UH on Sept. 29. Students joined their mentors for an afternoon of math contests and challenges. Photo provided by Kathy Zerda.

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering has won a grant to help prepare high school students for academic success through a new, innovative program called Step Foward.

The multi-phased grant, which is potentially worth up to $272,000, was given by the Texas Engineering and Technical Consortium (TETC) through the Texas Youth in Technology Project (TYT). Participating in the project are Fritz Claydon, professor and associate dean for undergraduate studies; Stuart Long, professor and associate dean for education development & outreach; Katherine Zerda, research assistant professor and director of the Program for Master in Engineering Studies (PROMES); and petroleum services provider Schlumberger.

Phase one of the grant will fund the new Step Forward program throughout the 2006-2007 academic year. In this program, 20 current ECE undergraduate students, recruited from existing programs such as PROMES, will mentor about 50 high school students every week. The time may be used for tutoring in math and science courses or to work on math/science competition readiness.

“We will work primarily with students from (Houston’s) Phyllis Wheatley High School,” said Zerda. “Many of the rising 9th-grade students who attended last summer’s Schlumberger Summer Institute, a pre-engineering experience conducted in conjunction with UH, are currently enrolled at Wheatley. We hope to continue our association with them, but extend the program to other Wheatley students. We are particularly interested in growing the pipeline of women and minority students entering the engineering fields.”

In addition to the weekly tutoring sessions, the students, mentors and Cullen College faculty will meet at the University of Houston once a month for student success workshops emphasizing personal development and academic-success skills.

According to Zerda these workshops will incorporate of some programs already in place at the University of Houston, including two sessions conducted by the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME).

“In the fall, TAME and PROMES co-sponsor a career day featuring working engineers who discuss their jobs with young students from local Houston school districts. In the spring we jointly sponsor a math and science competition for middle and high school students,” said Zerda. “We want to combine some of our planned Saturday activities with TAME’s activities since we have the shared objective of introducing engineering to a diverse population of young students.”

Phase two of the grant, if awarded, will fund a two-week summer day camp, called the Step Forward Engineering Camp, for 10th and 11th graders. Zerda anticipates that most of the participants in this program will also be participants in the year-long tutoring and mentorship program.

In addition, the second phase will provide funding for 10 scholarships to graduating high school seniors who participate in the Step Forward program during the 2006-2007 academic year. Each scholarship will provide a total of $2,400 for the Fall 2007 and Spring 2008 semesters to students entering the ECE department at UH.

“What we’re hoping is that we will encourage students who maybe today are not even thinking of going to college,” said Zerda. “We hope to inspire them to not only dream about going to college but to enter into a science, math or engineering field. We’re looking for students who have the aptitude to be successful in engineering but haven’t discovered that for themselves yet. We want to encourage them and show them that they can be successful if they have the right tools and right support.”

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