Northeastern University researchers have received a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish an innovative scholarship and mentoring program that supports college transfer students from underrepresented backgrounds who are studying and doing research in energy. The pedagogy Northeastern develops through the new program can serve as a national model for educating and supporting college students through the transfer process.
The five-year program—called Student Pathways Opening World Energy Resources, or S-POWER—aligns with a national imperative to increase workforce diversity in STEM fields and the energy sector. According to the NSF, the program seeks to address two primary national crises: the extremely low persistence rate of underrepresented minority transfer students from two- or four-year institutions that don’t offer degrees in STEM to institutions that do grant degrees in STEM, and the need for fundamental research and training in energy-related fields in order to prepare a new generation of energy experts.
The vision of S-POWER is to revolutionize the pedagogy with which colleges and universities successfully educate transfer students, particularly those with financial need as well as those who are underrepresented minorities, female, and first-generation students.
We want to develop something that is not only programmatic but also based in educational research.
—Richard Harris, assistant dean for academic scholarship, mentoring, and outreach in the College of Engineering and director of the Northeastern University Program in Multicultural Engineering
“We want to develop something that is not only programmatic but also based in educational research,” said Richard Harris, assistant dean for academic scholarship, mentoring, and outreach in the College of Engineering and director of the Northeastern University Program in Multicultural Engineering. “The idea is to use this as an educational research tool—that once we conclude this we’ll have identified the key aspects of how to replicate this nationally and institutionalize it at Northeastern in a way that builds upon the work that started with this $5 million grant.”
The program will provide scholarships for up to 160 undergraduate and graduate students; participating students will each be eligible for up to $30,000 in direct financial aid.
Northeastern is partnering directly with two Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the South—Clark Atlanta University and Hampton University—as well as Mass Bay, Middlesex, and Northern Essex community colleges in Massachusetts. Through the program, undergraduate students from these institutions will transfer into Northeastern’s College of Engineering, beginning with the first cohort of about 25 students in fall 2017. Future S-POWER cohorts will also include students who graduate from Hampton University with undergraduate degrees and who want to pursue engineering graduate programs at Northeastern.
Northeastern will work closely with these partners to build a collaborative education, administrative, and mentoring ecosystem that uniquely supports students throughout the transfer process. This includes mapping out each student’s curriculum before and after the transfer to ensure specific educational gaps are addressed. Northeastern will also help its partners implement many aspects of the S-POWER program back at their own institutions.
The idea is to use this as an educational research tool—that once we conclude this we’ll have identified the key aspects of how to replicate this nationally and institutionalize it at Northeastern in a way that builds upon the work that started with this $5 million grant.
The program will also focus on building social and mentoring ties with students in a number of ways. One key component is a summer program on Northeastern’s campus that will help transfer students acclimate to the university while participating in research projects.
The program will leverage Northeastern’s renowned experiential education model as well as its focus on use-inspired research to solve global challenges in health, security, and sustainability—the university’s three primary research thrusts, all of which tie closely to global energy challenges, Harris said. Once students have transferred, they will have the opportunity to participate in co-ops in the energy sector and conduct research with Northeastern’s S-POWER faculty mentors. S-POWER will engage industry partners to sponsor additional student projects.
One program objective is for S-POWER graduates to be fully employed in an engineering or science field within six months of graduation. The S-POWER leadership team points to Northeastern’s strength in this area: Ninety-two percent of Northeastern graduates are employed full time or enrolled in graduate school within nine months of graduation, and 89 percent of employed graduates are doing work related to their major.
The program’s unique strategies also include creating thematic cohorts of students, faculty, and industry professionals. Each cohort will focus on a particular area, such as making solar energy more economical or creating energy from fusion—which are two of the National Academy for Engineering’s “Grand Challenges for Engineering” in the 21st century.
The program will establish a robust mentoring and advising network, in which students will have a faculty mentor from both Northeastern and their original schools. They will also have mentors from the energy industry and organizations such as the Greater Boston chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy, while getting support from their peers from various Northeastern student organizations such as Northeastern’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. In fact, once students complete the program, the goal is for them to become alumni mentors to current S-POWER students.
Students will also be connected with a variety of university resources, including the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute, the Latino/a Student Cultural Center, the Center for STEM Education, and the Northeastern University Center for Energy Education and Research.
The program will also involve studying, analyzing, and documenting the barriers for underrepresented minority transfer students and disseminating best practices to both Northeastern’s partner institutions and the broader higher education community.
Brad Lehman, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is principal investigator on the project, whose leadership team includes co-principal investigators: Harris; Marilyn Minus, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering; Claire Duggan, director of the Center for STEM Education at Northeastern; and Khalil Shujaee, professor of computer science at Clark Atlanta University.