College of Engineering pilots student retention programs

Bridge program students worked as a team to complete the Mountain Campus Challenge Course.

If you could go back in time to tell your college freshman self what to expect from the first year of college, would you do it?

Through the new bridge program at the College of Engineering, incoming engineering students have the opportunity to gain insight on their freshman year before the semester starts.

Thanks to many generous donations, the Dean’s Innovation Fund provided seed money for this initiative, and allowed 16 freshman students to get a taste of college life the week before classes began.

Donald White is a fourth-year biomedical engineering student who helped out with the bridge program in its first week. With his experiences as an underrepresented minority and out-of-state student, White was able to connect with many of the students trying out the program by providing insight and advice on what year one of an engineering education looks like.

“I just want to be able to give to them what I wish I would’ve known before I came to CSU, especially in engineering,” White said.

According to Terry Comerford, director of the Engineering Success Center, “The goal is for current students to be a resource for incoming students. It’s a way for our underclass students to ask questions, discuss classes, talk about professors… It’s a great way for new students to get tips on how to be successful in engineering.”

Getting involved on campus

Because most engineering students don’t get to experience the hands-on aspects of engineering immediately, it’s sometimes necessary to remind students why they’re passionate about the major while they’re still taking core classes. Getting involved early on can be a key component of reigniting students’ passion for engineering, and securing opportunities after graduation.

White’s involvement with the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) led him to join the bridge program as a guide/mentor, so he could share his experiences with incoming students. He will also be one of the first mentors of the college’s upcoming peer-mentoring program, a natural transition from the bridge program into these students’ first year of college. The peer-mentoring program partners new undergraduate students with upper class students to help guide them through their first year or two of engineering at CSU.

One of the primary goals of the peer-mentoring program is to increase retention of identified populations of underrepresented students, but also to encourage those students to participate in organizations and activities outside of the classroom.

White explains the power of involvement: “It was my second year in engineering, and I wasn’t really expecting to get an internship, but I met a recruiter from Baxter Healthcare. I just told her that I was really passionate about medical devices. She scheduled an interview with me, and a week later they made an offer. It was a good experience I wouldn’t have gotten without NSBE.”

The future of bridge

The bridge and peer-mentoring programs work hand in hand to increase retention rates for underrepresented students. The College of Engineering would like to be able to offer the bridge program every summer, and then encourage 70-80 percent of bridge program participants to become involved in the peer-mentoring program during their first year at Colorado State.

“The short-term goal would be to have the bridge program each summer, and reward those continuing to the peer-mentoring program with a partial scholarship. This provides added motivation for them to participate in student organizations, attend career fairs, meet with employers, and participate in developmental sessions. There will be guidelines about meeting with your mentor, and attending certain professional development events over the course of the year, and if you continue in engineering you would receive this scholarship,” Comerford said.

Through these two programs, Comerford hopes to drastically improve retention of underrepresented engineering and first-generation students. Halliburton has already signed on to ensure continuation of the bridge and peer-mentoring programs, but additional support is needed in order for these programs to be offered annually by the College of Engineering.

If enough funding is provided, the bridge program could eventually turn into a four- to six-week program in which students get to learn engineering-related subjects in a classroom environment, get acquainted with the campus, and explore resources.

If these programs become an annual addition to the College of Engineering, Comerford has big goals in store for both. “The overall goal of the bridge and peer-mentoring programs is for them to transform the College of Engineering into the premier program for underrepresented students, and for CSU to be the preferred engineering school in Colorado for underrepresented students because of the resources offered.”