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New Scholarship Initiative To Help Ease STEM Path for Students

A new University of Texas at Dallas initiative will provide financial and academic support to transfer students from low-income backgrounds who want to become engineers and computer scientists.

UT Dallas received $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program for the project, Improving Transfer Academic, Career and Community Engagement for Student Success (IT ACCESS) in Engineering and Computer Science. S-STEM removes barriers that many students face to enter the STEM workforce or graduate programs, said Dr. Amy Walker, principal investigator on UTD’s grant and associate dean for undergraduate education in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Transfer students often struggle to find a sense of belonging on campus and some lack confidence in their ability to excel, said Walker, who also is a professor of materials science and engineering.

From left: Courtney Brecheen MPA’09, PhD’17, Dr. Yvette E. Pearson, Dr. Amy Walker and Dr. Joshua Summers are leading a new engineering and computer science scholarship initiative at UT Dallas.

“I want to make sure students who have the talent and desire to be an engineer or computer scientist have that opportunity,” Walker said. “If they are successful and they can get a great job or go on to graduate school, that transforms their families’ lives in so many different ways.”

A total of 30 IT ACCESS scholars at UT Dallas will receive scholarships of up to $10,000 annually for a maximum of three years plus academic support. The first cohort of 10 will begin in fall 2023, with cohorts of 10 students added in 2024 and in 2025. Participation in IT ACCESS does not require a separate application; UTD will select recipients from admitted transfer students in engineering and computer science based on financial need.

The success of IT ACCESS will be measured, in part, by how many participants earn engineering and computer science degrees and enter the STEM workforce or graduate programs. Co-principal investigators are Courtney Brecheen MPA’09, PhD’17, senior associate dean of undergraduate education; Dr. Joshua Summers, professor and department head of mechanical engineering and holder of a Jonsson School Chair; and Dr. Yvette E. Pearson, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, who led S-STEM projects at her previous institutions and serves as an S-STEM Advisory Board member for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“I want to make sure students who have the talent and desire to be an engineer or computer scientist have that opportunity. If they are successful and they can get a great job or go on to graduate school, that transforms their families’ lives in so many different ways.”

Dr. Amy Walker, associate dean for undergraduate education in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science

The project also aims to improve the sense of belonging and professional identity of the scholars, which begins with changing perspectives on who can become an engineer or computer scientist, according to Pearson.

“I was a student who many people did not envision when they pictured a future engineer,” said Pearson, a licensed professional engineer who is Black, was born with cerebral palsy and was not a top performer in her high school or undergraduate programs. “When we see success show up in a certain demographic, people think it’s the exception. We need to change this concept of status quo and exceptionality so that we recognize that it’s normal for transfer students, it’s normal for students from low-income backgrounds, it’s normal for Black disabled women to be successful engineers.

“How do we change that narrative? That’s the role I see the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion playing in this project.”

“When we see success show up in a certain demographic, people think it’s the exception. We need to change this concept of status quo and exceptionality so that we recognize that it’s normal for transfer students, it’s normal for students from low-income backgrounds, it’s normal for Black disabled women to be successful engineers.”

Dr. Yvette E. Pearson, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at UTD

Summers will lead an initiative to provide research experiences that build community for transfer students.

“If we can put students in direct contact with a faculty member and a group of peers to work on something, that gives us an opportunity for mentoring, coaching and advising,” Summers said.

Brecheen will lead efforts to study which strategies work best for students and how those practices can be used to improve outcomes for all transfer students.

“Receiving this investment from NSF affirms the value of deep collaboration between faculty and staff on significant STEM student success initiatives,” Brecheen said. “We intend to mobilize multiple units across campus with intense intentionality to ensure that our program results in outcomes and insights that can contribute to improving the transfer student experience at UT Dallas and other institutions across the country.”

Source | UT Dallas News Center | Written by Kim Horner


ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT

The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 4,000 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,010 master’s students, 140 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 42 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2021. With the University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.

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