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University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering


BP Grant Supports PROMES Program, STEP Forward Camp and Power Weekend

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Audrey Grayson

Thanks to an $85,000 grant from BP, the Cullen College’s PROMES (Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies) Program now has the much-needed support to continue its many outreach and student success activities this academic year and throughout the summer of 2014.

According to PROMES program director Kathy Zerda, PROMES relies on grant funding and corporate support to provide engineering outreach to K-12 students as well as academic enrichment and personal development to undergraduate students in the Cullen College.  “We are fortunate to have a number of dedicated alumni and corporate sponsors who believe in this programming and who see firsthand the impact of PROMES, especially as relates to students from groups typically underrepresented in engineering, such as women and minorities.  Many of the students we serve are the first in their families to attend a four-year university and they join PROMES to be part of a community focused on helping them to achieve success academically and professionally.” 

Each fall, PROMES hosts “Maximizing Your Power Weekend,” an annual orientation for freshman and new transfer students entering into the PROMES community. The two-day event includes inspirational keynote speakers, an alcohol awareness presentation, professional development workshops hosted by industry engineers, and a full-day seminar on the Guaranteed 4.0 Learning System ® presented by Dr. Donna O. Johnson. Over 300 PROMES students and guests attend “Power Weekend” each year, and Zerda says these students have the G.P.A.’s to show for it.

The average cumulative end-of-year G.P.A. of the first-year PROMES  students who attended ‘Maximize Your Power Weekend’ in 2012 was 3.01, compared to 2.66 for those students who did not attend this event, Zerda explained.  “We have seen this upward trend in academic performance over the past five years.  We attribute the improved G.P.A. average to implementation of the Guaranteed 4.0 Learning System, but also to the increased engagement by students in PROMES project-based introductory engineering courses, collaborative learning workshops and peer support within the community,” said Zerda.

Power Weekend has been funded largely through a National Science Foundation (NSF) STEP grant over the past several years.  That grant is expiring soon and the ability of PROMES staff to continue to offer this event has been a concern.

“I am most excited that BP earmarked $10,000 of their gift specifically for Power Weekend,” said Zerda. “This event has proven to be a very successful tool for us to instruct students in how to achieve academic excellence, and I’m so excited to know that we can continue this next year.”

BP’s generous donation to the PROMES Program also included $25,000 set aside for the STEP Forward Camp, a week-long engineering camp for rising high school 12th graders. Students who participate in this camp are often from underserved communities in the Houston area.

“Campers get an extremely in-depth and intense experience,” Zerda said. “What I tell parents at the beginning of the STEP Forward orientation is that by the end of the week their child will know if engineering is for them or not. They’ll either love it or hate it. That helps them out in college because they’ll know whether or not to try engineering. That’s really the goal. I want students to apply for college knowing what they’re shooting for and knowing the best place for them to go.”

Many, in fact, do go on to study engineering, Zerda said. In fact, about 12 to 15 STEP Forward alumni  are currently enrolled in the Cullen College, making the camps valuable recruiting tools. Each of these students, she added, receives a one-year scholarship ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 thanks to a separate grant from BP.

“BP has consistently been a strong supporter of the Cullen College, the PROMES Program, our outreach and our student success efforts, but this is the largest single corporate gift to the PROMES Program that  we have received from any company during my 8 years as the program’s director,” Zerda said. ”These new funds will allow us to add additional academic support elements to improve graduation rates.  We appreciate BP’s generosity which means so much to the PROMES Program, the college, and of course, to all of our students who will directly benefit.”



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