A multi-college effort to enhance opportunities for underrepresented student groups in the Houston region and beyond via the establishment of an Engineering Research Center has received a $100,000 planning grant from the National Science Foundation.
Jerrod Henderson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, is the PI for the planning grant, “Engineering Research Center for Engineering Student Success Initiatives.” Joining him on the grant are co-PIs Daniel Burleson, Ph.D., an Instructional Associate Professor at the Cullen College of Engineering's First Year Experience; and Virginia Rangel, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the College of Education.
According to the grant's abstract, the National Science Board reports that since 2000, the portion of engineering degrees awarded to underrepresented students has improved very little or not at all. In 2000, 8.6 percent, 7.3 percent, and 0.7 percent of engineering degrees were awarded to African Americans, Latinx and Native American students, respectively. In 2015, the figures were still low – 8.7 percent, 12.8 percent, and 0.5 percent.
“Recent statistics on engineering education shows that underrepresented students are more likely to attend Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI). Yet, most of the research on engineering education comes from Predominantly-White Institutions (PWIs), which may limit the generalizability of findings for underrepresented students and more diverse institutions,” the authors wrote. “Furthermore, research often is done in silos with insufficient interdisciplinary collaboration. If we are going to move the needle on Broadening Participation in Engineering and engineering workforce development – our targeted societal impact – we we need a convergent approach led by stakeholders at the forefront of supporting a diverse engineering future – MSIs.”
To do so, the group proposes an MSI-led Engineering Research Center (ERC) that focuses on Engineering Student Success founded on Engineering Education frameworks.
“This ERC will become a leader in the development of engineering student success research and will be uniquely positioned to translate findings into policies and practices that address the success (defined as recruitment, retention, and graduation) of underrepresented engineering students, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” they wrote. “This ERC will bring together a core team of interdisciplinary researchers from across MSIs in the Greater Houston area and beyond. The aim for the development and execution of this ERC is to become a model of MSI engagement and collaboration.”
Henderson noted he has worked with Rangel and Burleson in the past, which is why they connected for this project.
“We connected on this particular proposal because of our long standing research and teaching collaborations,” he said. “Dr. Rangel and I have been collaborating since I arrived at University of Houston. For example, we are co-PIs on a NSF-ITEST Grant that funds the St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy. Dr. Burleson and I have collaborated in the classroom as a part of the first-year engineering experience. Our research interests in engineering identity development fuel our collaboration.
The grant outlines the need for interdisciplinary researchers from across MSIs in the Greater Houston area. As of Sept. 1, Henderson said they are using the planning grant for team formation, to build the best team possible.
“I envision an Engineering Education Research Center as a way to collaboratively move the field forward, and as a way to support the development of an engineering education department here at UH,” Henderson said. “The success of our ERC demands successful collaboration between at least these colleges. We also hope to galvanize the entire UH community around this idea of 'Convergent Research' approaches that the NSF speaks about in the ERC Call for Proposals. Our collective work closely aligns with this goal.”