University of Pittsburgh
February 25, 2003

Pitt Engineering School Implements New Program to Recruit, Retain Underrepresented Students Mentoring, study skills, career guidance keys to PECAP

Contact:  412-624-4147

February 26, 2003

PITTSBURGH—Heavy workloads, difficult classes, and time management are problems every freshman has to wrestle with. But for students who are not adequately prepared for college, those problems can be insurmountable.

Because some qualified minority and disadvantaged students need help acclimating themselves to college life, the University of Pittsburgh's School of Engineering (SOE) is implementing a program that will help students attain a stronger educational background and provide them with positive role models.

Building on Pitt's 30-year history of diversity efforts, Sylvanus Nwosu, SOE's assistant dean for diversity, created the new Pitt Engineering Career Access Program (PECAP). Beginning this summer, PECAP will work to increase the recruitment and retention of qualified underrepresented students—African American, Hispanic, Native American, women, and academically or economically disadvantaged students—as well as promote multicultural relationships within the school.

"PECAP stems from the belief that a student's academic preparation for engineering should begin early and must continue throughout college," said Nwosu. "By addressing deficiencies in K-12 math and science curricula and developing skills through hands-on experience, PECAP will better prepare students for an engineering education and increase the number and quality of engineering graduates."

PECAP will provide continuous academic enhancement in college through support, counseling, mentoring, and research opportunities.

"What is unique about PECAP is that it is a total package," Nwosu explained. "It is a comprehensive educational program, which both supports and challenges students from early high school through college graduation."

PECAP has three components—the precollege Investing Now and Critical and Analytical Reasoning Enrichment (CARE) programs, the Excel Summer Engineering Academy (SEA), and the Minority Engineering Mentoring Program (MEMP).

Leslie V. Horne, who has served as the director of Investing Now since the program's inception in 1988, recently was named director of the precollege component. Investing Now is a comprehensive college preparatory program; CARE focuses specifically on students with an interest in engineering.

"Mrs. Horne has been a key supporter of PECAP," Nwosu said. "Her experience and dedication are transforming this program into a reality."

SOE's 2002 graduating class included students from Investing Now's ninth group of students. Of that group, 100 percent went to college, and most of them graduated with honors. Almost half chose majors in engineering, math, or science.

The second component, CARE, will work to improve student skills in cognitive, critical, and analytical thinking. CARE will accept 40 pre-10th and 11th grade females and minority students. Requirements for acceptance are a strong interest in science and math and class ranking in the top 25 percent.

CARE students will attend a summer academic enhancement program designed to develop skills through hands-on experience. This year students from the Pittsburgh area will commute, but when the program expands in the summer of 2004, CARE students will live on campus. Upon completing the CARE program, students will be encouraged to attend Pitt and will receive special consideration for admission.

Horne—along with Alaine Allen, assistant director of Investing Now, and Angelitha Daniel, coordinator of minority recruitment and advisor for PECAP—has worked hard to ensure the success of the CARE program. By the end of high school, CARE students should improve in both academic performance and class rank; program directors are predicting that 50 percent of the students will graduate with GPAs of 3.0 or higher.

PECAP also will work to address problems within the high school curricula. The CARE program will partner with high school math and science teachers to discuss curriculum issues in public schools.

Graduates of the CARE program and other recent high school graduates planning to major in engineering will be invited to attend SEA, the Excel Summer Engineering Academy, which helps make the academic and emotional transition from high school to college easier.

The program emphasizes quality and accountability for excellence by building critical and analytical reasoning skills. Students needing academic enhancement will pursue a rigorous program of credit and noncredit courses in science, mathematics, and technical communication, while students who qualify will work directly with faculty members and graduate students on summer research projects.

Priority acceptance to SEA is given to students who plan to attend Pitt; students who attend SEA are given special consideration when applying to Pitt for admission.

Last summer, 26 students participated in the SEA program. Each SEA student took classes in physics, calculus, computer science, English writing, and study skills, while participating in the mentoring program with faculty. Of the 26 students, 24 enrolled in the SOE this past fall.

Once enrolled at Pitt, PECAP students will have peer, faculty, and professional mentors through MEMP. Continuous performance evaluations will be given to ensure that difficulties are identified and rectified quickly. Participation in research projects, attendance at career workshops, team building, and diversity education programs are important elements of MEMP.

MEMP, which also encourages advanced engineering education, pairs students with a variety of mentors: Successful upper class students serve as peer mentors; faculty mentors are matched with students according to mutual interest; and full-time professional counselors serve as personal, financial, and academic advisors.

"Mentors believe in their students," said Nwosu. "They are there to help celebrate their students' successes."