By Edwin L. Aguirre
A team of faculty researchers led by Biomedical Engineering Asst. Teaching Prof. Yanfen Li has been awarded a six-year grant totaling nearly $1.5 million by the National Science Foundation to create a diverse and competitive pool of students who could become future faculty candidates in engineering.
“This project will contribute to the national need for highly skilled scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technicians by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income minority students in engineering at UML,” says Li, who is an associate in the university’s Center for Women and Work and a SLICE (Service-Learning Integrated throughout a College of Engineering) development coordinator.
Under the grant, faculty will help students explore careers in higher education and support them as they pursue graduate degrees at UMass Lowell.
“UMass Lowell is a public university with high research activity and a high percentage of first-generation undergraduate students. Our goal is to support these students in completing their bachelor’s degrees and moving on to graduate school,” Li says.
The project, called “Fostering Future Engineering Faculty Diversity by Building a Pipeline to Graduate Programs,” also includes four co-principal investigators: Francis College of Engineering Dean and Prof. James Sherwood and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Electrical and Computer Engineering Prof. Kavitha Chandra, as well as Asst. Prof. Hsien-Yuan (Mark) Hsu and Assoc. Prof. Phitsamay Uy, both from the School of Education.
According to Li, under the program, 24 full-time students in engineering will each receive up to $40,000 in scholarship funds over a period of four years, from their junior undergraduate year through the completion of their master’s degree or qualifying exam within a Ph.D. program.
Project activities will include group-based mentoring meetings with internal and external faculty, job shadowing, support for individual graduate school applications, positive teaching and research experiences, and a mentorship program for first- and second-year graduate students. The program will also offer a new course on social justice pedagogy that is available to all graduate students.
Uy plans to bring her experience in Asian-American education mentorship to the workshops on pedagogy and cultural competency.
“We will answer questions like how to mentor and develop relationships especially when dealing with people of different social identities, as well as understanding how these identities impact relationships, mentoring and communication,” she says.
Hsu, who is an expert on educational psychology, statistics and quantitative research design, will collect data from students attending the mentoring workshops to find out whether they are actually learning what they are supposed to learn. He will share the results with other educators.
“We will conduct assessments and measurements to help students reach their goals and to develop a set of metrics to gauge how successful the program is in developing a pipeline of graduate students in the STEM fields,” he says.
“It is our hope that the students we recruit will become future faculty members at community colleges and universities and be future advocates for their minority students,” says Li. “This has the potential to increase the diversity of faculty both here at UMass Lowell and other universities, which will increase the number of role models for generations of future students.”