Engineering Students ‘Step Out’ to Help Others

Key Elements of PROMES Will Be Expanded Next Fall

Karen Jordan will step out for a cause this weekend, but her journey began more than three years ago.

As an alumnus of PROMES – the Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies, pronounced “promise” – Jordan plans to participate in the March 29 “Out of the Darkness” walk to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention, the signature spring fundraiser for the engineering program.

College students are a prime demographic. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds in Texas, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Jordan doesn’t have a personal connection to the cause, but she said she can relate to the pain felt by the volunteers who have lost a family member to suicide. “I don’t want my mom to be standing there, all sad,” she said.

This will be the fifth year PROMES has sponsored the walk; UH Counseling and Psychological Services trained advisors in the Cullen College of Engineering on the signs of depression to help them better work with students.

“It’s made it comfortable for students to talk about the issue,” said PROMES Director Kathy Zerda. “It’s a big issue, alarmingly so in the college and pre-college group. So many of our students know somebody who suffers from depression, or they’ve lost somebody.”

Several days before the event, students already had raised more than $11,300 -- well above the $10,000 goal.

But most of PROMES’ outreach is academic: Jordan got involved after a disappointing start to her freshman year. Program manager John Matthews Jr. knew Jordan’s older brother and came looking for her.

With individual attention and rigorous workshops, her grades have steadily improved. She’s on track to graduate this spring.

“It’s hard to work your way back,” she said. “It’s all about pushing yourself, not giving up.”

PROMES started 40 years ago to boost engineering as a career for women and minority students. By the 1990s, the program was open to all students, and next fall the Cullen College of Engineering will begin moving all freshman and transfer students into the program for at least one semester.

Dean Joseph Tedesco decided to expand it after seeing the results: Students participating in PROMES have higher GPAs and higher graduation rates.

Zerda said 85 percent of full-time freshmen and transfer students in PROMES last fall earned a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

“PROMES is really a win-win for our students,” Tedesco said. “It has been demonstrated semester after semester that involvement improves students’ GPAs. It only makes sense to expose all freshmen and transfer engineering students to the program so they can also reap the benefits.”

PROMES includes a weeklong summer camp for high school students and outreach to middle and high schools; once students are at UH, it involves a semester-long introduction to engineering course, as well as intensive focus on study skills, time management and other “best practices” for first-year students.

For more information about the walk, see this link: