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ECS Scholars watch as children from the campus Children's Center use a stream table they designed and built. The table provides both a play area and lessons in hydrology for the children and was a valuable learning experience for the engineering students. The ECS Scholars Program was recently honored by Excelencia in Education. Photo by Kelly Lacefield

An Excelencia Pick

National Organization Awards $50,000 to ECS Scholars Program

October 13, 2009

By Russ L. Hudson

Cal State Fullerton's College of Engineering and Computer Science is one of 20 university programs across the country to be honored with a $50,000 award to support Latino student access in engineering programs. The honor for the ECS Scholars Program of cohort study and focused support was presented late last month by the nonprofit organization Excelencia in Education.

Seeding Educational Models that Impact and Leverage Latino Academic Success, or SEMILLAS, the Spanish word for seed, is part of the organization’s national Growing What Works initiative, aimed at refining and replicating effective model educational programs that advance Latino achievement in colleges and universities. Cal State Fullerton’s status as second in the state and sixth in the nation in awarding undergraduate degrees to Hispanics qualified its programs for consideration.

“We are thrilled to receive the SEMILLAS grant and committed to promoting Latino students’ success by replicating our most promising and innovative programs,” said university President Milton A. Gordon.

“I'm delighted that the efficacy of the college's efforts have earned national recognition," said Raman Unnikrishnan, ECS dean, of the program in which Hispanic engineering and computer science freshmen take their courses together as a cohort. Nearly 80 percent of ECS Scholars Program participants stay in college and remain engineering majors until graduating, he said.

Annette Ruiz Gutierrez, a graduate of Hawthorne Math and Science Academy in Hawthorne, credits the ECS Scholars Program for keeping her in school and on track. As a freshman last year, she helped design and build a stream table for children in the campus child care center as her Freshman Programs project. The table provided both a play area and lessons in hydrology.

"Being the first in my family to go to a university was exciting and confusing at the same time," Gutierrez remembers. "At first, I felt very confident of becoming a civil engineer, but I began to doubt. The Scholars Program helped me learn about the university and the programs. Working on the stream table helped me get my thoughts straight and that helped make the difference.”

Katella High School graduate Christopher Peinder, now a mechanical engineering sophomore, echoed Gutierrez. “The Scholars Program mentoring helped me to continue with school and never look back. The tutoring they provided really helped, as well, because they taught me how to organize my work and adapt to different teaching techniques. They helped me survive my first semester. I hope other students take advantage of it.”

The program’s block scheduling gives students more chances to form connections with other students and with faculty. Students attend an engineering seminar each semester, get tutoring in core engineering, math and science courses through specialized freshman interest groups, and they have constant access to counseling in making the transition from high school to a university.

They also must take part in the university’s Freshman Programs, which offers further support and includes service projects, such the stream table.

"Today’s undergraduate population looks very different than it did a generation ago,” said Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education. “All of the institutions selected to receive these grants understand this reality and have actively worked to create a climate on their campuses where Latino students are welcomed as an asset, regardless of their needs. This kind of supportive environment is critical to promoting Latino student success.”

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