May 8, 2013

New ‘academic redshirt’ program to support undergraduate STEM education

News and Information

Redshirting isn’t just for athletes anymore.

The University of Washington in collaboration with Washington State University is developing an “academic redshirt” program that will bring dozens of low-income Washington state high school graduates to the two universities to study engineering in a five-year bachelor’s program.

The first year will help incoming freshmen acclimate to university-level courses and workload and prepare to major in an engineering discipline. The students will receive extra advising and a detailed course plan to help lay a strong foundation in engineering. At the UW, they will earn a spot in one of the school’s 10 engineering departments starting their second year.

Math Academy 2012 students

Dawn Wiggin

Math Academy students from 2012 are shown after a workshop. The summer program at UW could be a feeder program for the new “academic redshirt” initiative.

“Engineering education needs to adapt to the tortoises, not just the hares,” said Eve Riskin, UW associate dean of engineering and program lead for the UW. “We’re talking about investing an extra year in what will hopefully be a 30-year engineering career.”

The initiative, called the Washington State Academic RedShirt in Engineering Program –STARS, for short – is funded by a National Science Foundation grant awarded May 8. Eight other colleges and universities also will receive grants to help increase retention of undergraduates in engineering and computer sciences.

Under the five-year grant, the UW and WSU will enroll 32 freshmen from Washington high schools each year for a total of 320 students after five years. Both universities will hire a person to oversee the program, and they hope to keep it running indefinitely. The first 64 students will begin this fall.

“More and more, we’re seeing students who are bright, but they’ve gone to a high school where the college preparation isn’t good,” said Bob Olsen, a WSU associate dean of engineering and lead of the redshirt program at WSU.

The program specifically targets low-income, motivated high school students in Washington state who are eligible for federal Pell Grants – financial aid based on family income and the cost of attending a university – or go to high schools where a high percentage of the students are on free or reduced-price lunches. Such students usually have a lower retention rate at the university level and are more likely to struggle in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“Pell Grant students receive engineering degrees at significantly lower rates than non-Pell Grant students,” Riskin said. “This is unfortunate, because low-income students could most benefit from a lucrative engineering career.”

The Mathematics Academy, a summertime month-long intensive at the UW for high school students, could be a feeder for this new program in the state.

The UW will receive $970,000 over five years from the National Science Foundation to offer this program to incoming freshmen, and WSU will receive $700,000. Students in the UW cohort will get at least $2,000 in additional assistance from the College of Engineering as well as funding from traditional scholarship sources. These students will live in an engineering residential community.

The National Science Foundation partnered with Intel Corp. and General Electric Co. to fund the nine institutions for a total of $10 million in a grant called Graduate 10K+. Other funded schools include Cornell University, Syracuse University and California State University Monterey Bay. The Washington program is modeled after the Engineering GoldShirt Program at University of Colorado Boulder, now headed into its fifth year.

The UW will hire a full-time staff member to work with students in the five-year program. Dawn Wiggin and Scott Winter, associate directors in engineering’s student academic services, are collaborators.

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For more information, contact Riskin at riskin@uw.edu or 206-685-2313. She is traveling on Wednesday, May 8, but will be reachable by email.

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