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Minority Engineering Programs funded

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 35 - July 11, 1996

The G.E. Fund has awarded a $305,000 grant to the Minority Engineering Programs (MEP) at Virginia Tech in recognition of progress made toward increasing the number of graduating minority engineers.

The College of Engineering has witnessed steady increase in the number of minority engineering students who enter as freshman. For example, the number of black engineering freshmen has increased nearly 61 percent since 1992.

Retention rates for minorities also have improved, particularly at the critical freshman-to-sophomore level, where the retention rate increased from 51 percent in 1992 to 83 percent in 1994.

The G.E. Fund grant will enable Bevlee Watford, MEP director, to expand existing programs, and implement new initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining minority students.

The MEP includes the Minority Engineering Center, which is open to all engineering students for study and computer use; the BEST/WEST Mentoring Programs, designed to help women and minority engineering freshmen become acclimated to university life; ASPIRE, an orientation program for incoming engineering freshmen that offers courses in computer use, chemistry, math, study skills, and time management; and academic-excellence workshops, offered in conjunction with technical courses to help students learn problem-solving techniques.

The MEP also offers professional support programs, including seminars on resume writing, career areas, and other professional topics; the Faculty of the Future, providing information about graduate school and careers in teaching; and the Student Assistance Center, offering free tutoring to engineering students.

A new initiative for Fall Semester 1996 will provide undergraduate research opportunities for minority engineering students. "Students will be exposed to research early in their academic careers, encouraging their continued involvement in research activities throughout their undergraduate education," Watford says. "This will greatly improve the probability of these students pursuing graduate degrees, potentially earning a doctoral degree and pursuing a career as a faculty teacher and researcher."

Most of the MEP programs were developed by Watford, a Virginia Tech engineering alumnus who returned to the university in 1992 as the first MEP director. Earlier this year, Watford received the university's Affirmative Action Award in recognition of her work on behalf of minority and women students.