May 13, 2014 , BY Christina Masciere Wallace

In the mass of graduation gowns on Bucknell's Academic Quad on May 18, eight students will shine in white stoles that signify a special accomplishment. They are the first graduating class of the Engineering Success Alliance (ESA), a program that provides academic and professional support for engineering majors from under-resourced high schools.

ESA members are well-qualified students who may not have had access to the same quality of math preparation as other first-year engineering students. ESA offers them tutoring in the foundational math skills so critical to success in the College of Engineering along with support from faculty and peers. At Commencement, they will celebrate the culmination of their efforts and the beginning of their careers.

"It's great to graduate together as a group," said Monique McCants '14. "We were all going through the same struggles, and we all helped each other through. Through ESA, people were rooting for us behind the scenes, which was huge."

McCants interned for several summers with Air Products & Chemicals Inc. This summer, the mechanical engineering major joins the company's career development program as an employee.

Similarly, Luciana Salles '14 turned her summer internship with Avery Dennison into a full-time job. After she finishes her initial three-year rotation with the company and gains permanent-employee status, the chemical engineering major plans to pursue an MBA.

Salles was not so confident in her early days in the College of Engineering. "I graduated at the top of my high school class, but when I got here, I was immediately bombarded," she recalled. "Everyone else seemed to understand the concepts."

Through ESA, Salles received one-on-one math tutoring to build the foundation needed to succeed in engineering — and perhaps more importantly, she shared the camaraderie of classmates who faced similar challenges. "That initial round of tribulations was made easier by having a support network of friends who made me understand that I was not alone," she said. "It gave me confidence in my academic potential."

In addition to academic coaching, ESA helps students secure internships, brings in alumni and parent guest speakers, sponsors field trips to engineering sites and assists in networking and career placement. Over the past four years, ESA has added a full-time director and a dedicated study/hearth space in the Dana Engineering Building. In 2012, donor funding helped establish "Backstage Bucknell," a special preview week for ESA first-years held the week before Orientation.

"These students have the capability to do very well, but maybe not the habits," said Jason Milner, a math educator and interim director of ESA. "As they grow, you can really see them blossom. One of our sayings is 'Surviving to Thriving.' We're looking forward to holding up this first graduating class to first-years as a group who were in the same position, but who learned and thrived."

Hugo McMenamin '14 struggled with his first two calculus classes at Bucknell. "Getting math help with ESA was the most beneficial help I've ever had in a classroom setting," he said. Now he plans to pursue a career in academia. After being accepted into several programs, he settled on Penn State, where this fall he will begin working toward his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and vehicle dynamics. "Teaching others helps me understand things really well," said McMenamin, who led a Physics 212 study group at the Teaching & Learning Center.

The tightly knit ESA Class of 2014 will go their separate ways. Megan Reid '14 is heading to Nestle. Jaime Vasquez '14  will work for Parsons Brinckerhoff. Oswaldo Galicia '14 will begin his M.S. in civil engineering the University of South Florida. Daniel Bonilla '14  and Lorenzo Espares '14 continue to weigh their options. And a ninth member of the first ESA class, Dajah Massey '15, will stay at Bucknell to finish up a five-year dual degree in civil engineering and management. Each leaves a powerful example of success to the 35 younger ESA members who will return next year, plus those to arrive with the Class of 2018.

Salles hopes to continue mentoring ESA students as an alumni speaker. "I take so much pride in being part of the founding class and knowing that this program is exactly what they need to survive."

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