October 21, 2010

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By Christina Masciere Wallace

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Bucknell University is launching a new program to help students from under-resourced high schools succeed in the College of Engineering, Bucknell University President John Bravman announced today.

Created in partnership with Parsons Brinckerhoff, an international engineering firm, the Engineering Success Alliance (ESA) will begin by assisting 14 members of the Class of 2014. The program provides targeted tutoring to engineering students who did not have access to a strong education in mathematics before enrolling at Bucknell.

"The ESA makes a powerful statement to students from under-resourced schools who want to get an engineering education," said President Bravman. "It says, 'You are not alone.' We recognize that they have not necessarily had the traditional background that leads to an engineering career. But we know that they have the intellect, drive, and creativity to be successful engineers. We're going to open the world of engineering to them."

A business imperative
George Pierson, president and CEO of Parsons Brinckerhoff, has committed $250,000 in start-up funding. Parsons Brinckerhoff and Bucknell are seeking to raise an additional $1 million in private funding to fully endow the program so that it is self-sustaining.

"It's the right thing to do, but it's also a business imperative," said Pierson, who is a 1984 graduate of the College of Engineering. "The United States is simply not graduating enough engineers, and students from under-resourced areas, including minorities, are under-represented in the profession. To remain competitive as a company and as a country, we must draw students of all backgrounds into engineering fields."

A foundation for success
Students in Bucknell's College of Engineering, which is widely regarded as one of the top undergraduate engineering schools in the country, face a rigorous and demanding course load. The foundation for success is math, according to Laura Beninati, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

"The first two years are crucial in establishing a fundamental basis for engineering," she said. "If students arrive with a weak math basis from high school, it will ultimately catch up with them in their junior and senior years."

Through the ESA, Bucknell engineering faculty identify incoming students from groups that are historically under-represented in the field and whose math and science experience may not be consistent with that of traditional engineering students. Students who accept the invitation to join the ESA work one-on-one with a professional math mentor hired expressly for this purpose. Funding from Parsons Brinckerhoff pays for the mentor's salary, program materials and training for two or three peer tutors. The mentor and ESA tutors focus on identifying and correcting specific math deficiencies.

The University and Parsons Brinckerhoff envision the Engineering Success Alliance as the beginning of a national effort to increase diversity in the engineering workforce.

A resource for faculty
ESA is a great opportunity, said one participant, who plans to study computer engineering. "It's a rigorous program, and I like the option of having a study group to help support me — and help us support each other," he said.

Program participants will also benefit from valuable networking and internship opportunities — another way of helping them achieve the same advantages as typical engineering students at Bucknell.

"This program is going to change the way a lot of our instructors view students who struggle with math," said Beninati. "We have traditional students who struggle with current academic requirements, let alone with material that high schools typically would cover. The Engineering Success Alliance is definitely going to be a valuable resource for students and faculty alike."

Contact: Division of Communications