$1.2 Million NSF Grant Boosts Effort to Increase Engineering Technology Scholars

The Engineering Technology Department is one of two departments at the University of Houston that has received a combined $1.2 million from the National Science Foundation to support scholarships for students in engineering technology and computer science.

The money comes from the NSF’s S-STEM (Scholarships for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program. Initiated several years ago, the program is intended to improve education opportunities and support programs for academically talented students with financial need in an effort to boost the nation’s STEM workforce.

Dr. Xiaojing Yuan, associate professor of engineering technology in the UH College of Technology, is principal investigator for a $639,895, grant. She said it will be used to provide scholarships for an estimated 40 engineering technology students over the next five years, within the disciplines of computer engineering technology, mechanical engineering technology and electrical power engineering technology.

Rakesh Verma, professor of computer science, received $583,597 to provide scholarships for computer science students.

A number of national reports have identified a clear national need for more STEM graduates. A 2012 report by President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recommended that the nation graduate 1 million new scientists and engineers by 2022 in order to be competitive in the 21st century. A 2013 Brookings Institute report found that Houston ranked 5th out of 100 U.S. cities for STEM career demand, but 72nd in supplying STEM workers. About two-thirds of the local STEM workforce with at least a bachelor’s degree comes from outside of Texas; almost one-fourth were born outside of the United States.

UH and other universities are working to address the need; enrollment in the Department of Engineering Technology has jumped by about 35 percent over the past five years, and the NSF scholarships will help to boost the STEM workforce even more.

Realizing that addressing the need will take more than simply offering a scholarship, the Department of Engineering Technology has designed a program, Succeed in Engineering Technology Scholars, or SETS, to identify and develop future leaders in the field. Students will be selected for the scholarships, worth up to $5,000 and renewable for up to three years, based on academic ability or promise and financial need.

Dr. Yuan and Dr. Heidar Malki, professor of engineering technology and a co-PI on the grant, said the scholarships are only part of the program. SETS is designed as an active learning community, with scholarship recipients gaining regular interaction with faculty, as well as a deeper understanding and relationship with local industry through meeting with guest speakers and networking professionals from local companies. SETS participants also will show case their projects in the biannual design symposium.

Malki said organizers hope to have the first cohort chosen by fall 2015. Once students are selected, they must maintain a 3.0 grade point average to remain in the program the following year.