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UNL receives $1.99 million grant for engineering education partnership with Nebraska community colleges

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering has been awarded a $1.99 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support an engineering education partnership with Nebraska's six community colleges. The collaborative project called "Strengthening Transitions into Engineering Programs' enables students to complete selected freshman and sophomore engineering courses at the state's community colleges and transfer seamlessly into the UNL College of Engineering.

The project goal is to offer transferring community college students the opportunity to complete a baccalaureate engineering degree within a traditional time frame.

"We recognized that an education in engineering was not an attractive option for community college or transfer students," said Stephanie G. Adams, UNL College of Engineering Assistant Dean for Research and the lead investigator for the grant. "In the past, a student who attended a community college and transferred into the UNL College of Engineering might be a junior in terms of credit hours, but a freshman in terms of engineering," she said. "This project guarantees the transfer of engineering course credits and makes the pursuit of an education in engineering more accessible," she said.

In a global economy where other nations such as China and India are producing more scientists and engineers, Gregory Smith, Executive Vice President of Central Community College in Grand Island, notes that for the U.S. to maintain its technological edge, it must improve the accessibility and quality of education. "

We (U.S.) are not producing enough engineers and scientists," said Smith. "Today's economy is driven by technology. Engineering and science are of principal importance in innovation," he said. "Our challenge as educators is to provide educational opportunities and increase enrollment in science and engineering programs within Nebraska."

"The economy of Nebraska is directly linked to the quality of its educational system," said Randy VanWagoner, Vice President of Educational Services for Metropolitan Community College in Omaha. "Many companies decide to build plants and locate headquarters in a state based, in large part, on the education level of its citizens. Providing this enhanced educational option and increasing the number of graduates in engineering will increase opportunities for these graduates and provide another benefit for Nebraska when companies consider expanding or opening new facilities in our state," he said.

Key to success of the STEP project is the development of four engineering courses being developed by UNL and community college faculty. The first two courses will be offered at the state's community colleges in fall 2007. In addition, a complementary set of student support activities such as mentoring, summer enrichment programs, UNL campus visits, parent orientation programs and career workshops will be offered next summer.

"One objective of the project is to develop and implement four new community college engineering courses along with corresponding articulation agreements that will redefine the engineering transition process from community colleges to UNL," said Bradley Morrison, Dean of Math and Science at Metropolitan Community College. "With existing community college offerings, these students will be able to transfer to the university as 'true' juniors. This project will provide more opportunities for a larger population of students, especially underrepresented students, to explore and pursue an education in engineering."

About 72 students transfer from Nebraska's community colleges to the UNL College of Engineering each year. The goal of the UNL STEP project is to increase the annual number to 216 by the end of the grant's five-year period. A specific objective of the project is to increase the number of community college students successfully transferring and obtaining baccalaureate degrees in engineering, with a special emphasis to increase enrollment of underrepresented students, including minorities and women.

"Southeast Community College's student population includes a significant number of female and minority students," said Dennis Headrick, Vice President for Instruction at Southeast Community College in Beatrice. "I believe we will see more students from community colleges entering into fields of engineering and more of these students being women and minorities," he said. "The success of this project will mean a more qualified workforce of engineers for Nebraska businesses and industries."

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