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S-POWER Program to Increase STEM and Energy fields

October 14, 2016

ECE Professor Bradley Lehman, MIE Associate Professor Marilyn Minus, Assistant Dean Richard Harris, and STEM Director Claire Duggan were awarded a 5-year $5M NSF grant to develop a "Student Pathways Opening World Energy Resources (S-POWER)" program.


Source: News @ Northeastern

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity researchers have received a $5 mil­lion grant from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion to estab­lish an inno­v­a­tive schol­ar­ship and men­toring pro­gram that sup­ports col­lege transfer stu­dents from under­rep­re­sented back­grounds who are studying and doing research in energy. The ped­a­gogy North­eastern develops through the new pro­gram can serve as a national model for edu­cating and sup­porting col­lege stu­dents through the transfer process.

The five-​​year program—called Stu­dent Path­ways Opening World Energy Resources, or S-POWER—aligns with a national imper­a­tive to increase work­force diver­sity in STEM fields and the energy sector. According to the NSF, the pro­gram seeks to address two pri­mary national crises: the extremely low per­sis­tence rate of under­rep­re­sented minority transfer stu­dents from two– or four-​​year insti­tu­tions that don’t offer degrees in STEM to insti­tu­tions that do grant degrees in STEM, and the need for fun­da­mental research and training in energy-​​related fields in order to pre­pare a new gen­er­a­tion of energy experts.

The vision of S-​​POWER is to rev­o­lu­tionize the ped­a­gogy with which col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties suc­cess­fully edu­cate transfer stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly those with finan­cial need as well as those who are under­rep­re­sented minori­ties, female, and first-​​generation students.

We want to develop some­thing that is not only pro­gram­matic but also based in edu­ca­tional research.
—Richard Harris, assis­tant dean for aca­d­emic schol­ar­ship, men­toring, and out­reach in the Col­lege of Engi­neering and director of the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pro­gram in Mul­ti­cul­tural Engineering

We want to develop some­thing that is not only pro­gram­matic but also based in edu­ca­tional research,” said Richard Harris, assis­tant dean for aca­d­emic schol­ar­ship, men­toring, and out­reach in the Col­lege of Engi­neering and director of the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Pro­gram in Mul­ti­cul­tural Engi­neering. “The idea is to use this as an edu­ca­tional research tool—that once we con­clude this we’ll have iden­ti­fied the key aspects of how to repli­cate this nation­ally and insti­tu­tion­alize it at North­eastern in a way that builds upon the work that started with this $5 mil­lion grant.”

The pro­gram will pro­vide schol­ar­ships for up to 160 under­grad­uate and grad­uate stu­dents; par­tic­i­pating stu­dents will each be eli­gible for up to $30,000 in direct finan­cial aid.

North­eastern is part­nering directly with two His­tor­i­cally Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties across the South—Clark Atlanta Uni­ver­sity and Hampton University—as well as Mass Bay, Mid­dlesex, and Northern Essex com­mu­nity col­leges in Mass­a­chu­setts. Through the pro­gram, under­grad­uate stu­dents from these insti­tu­tions will transfer into Northeastern’s Col­lege of Engi­neering, begin­ning with the first cohort of about 25 stu­dents in fall 2017. Future S-​​POWER cohorts will also include stu­dents who grad­uate from Hampton Uni­ver­sity with under­grad­uate degrees and who want to pursue engi­neering grad­uate pro­grams at Northeastern.

North­eastern will work closely with these part­ners to build a col­lab­o­ra­tive edu­ca­tion, admin­is­tra­tive, and men­toring ecosystem that uniquely sup­ports stu­dents throughout the transfer process. This includes map­ping out each student’s cur­riculum before and after the transfer to ensure spe­cific edu­ca­tional gaps are addressed. North­eastern will also help its part­ners imple­ment many aspects of the S-​​POWER pro­gram back at their own institutions.

The idea is to use this as an edu­ca­tional research tool—that once we con­clude this we’ll have iden­ti­fied the key aspects of how to repli­cate this nation­ally and insti­tu­tion­alize it at North­eastern in a way that builds upon the work that started with this $5 mil­lion grant.
—Richard Harris

The pro­gram will also focus on building social and men­toring ties with stu­dents in a number of ways. One key com­po­nent is a summer pro­gram on Northeastern’s campus that will help transfer stu­dents accli­mate to the uni­ver­sity while par­tic­i­pating in research projects.

The pro­gram will leverage Northeastern’s renowned expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion model as well as its focus on use-​​inspired research to solve global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity, and sustainability—the university’s three pri­mary research thrusts, all of which tie closely to global energy chal­lenges, Harris said. Once stu­dents have trans­ferred, they will have the oppor­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in co-​​ops in the energy sector and con­duct research with Northeastern’s S-​​POWER fac­ulty men­tors. S-​​POWER will engage industry part­ners to sponsor addi­tional stu­dent projects.

One pro­gram objec­tive is for S-​​POWER grad­u­ates to be fully employed in an engi­neering or sci­ence field within six months of grad­u­a­tion. The S-​​POWER lead­er­ship team points to Northeastern’s strength in this area: Ninety-​​two per­cent of North­eastern grad­u­ates are employed full time or enrolled in grad­uate school within nine months of grad­u­a­tion, and 89 per­cent of employed grad­u­ates are doing work related to their major.

The program’s unique strate­gies also include cre­ating the­matic cohorts of stu­dents, fac­ulty, and industry pro­fes­sionals. Each cohort will focus on a par­tic­ular area, such as making solar energy more eco­nom­ical or cre­ating energy from fusion—which are two of the National Academy for Engineering’s “Grand Chal­lenges for Engi­neering” in the 21st century.

The pro­gram will estab­lish a robust men­toring and advising net­work, in which stu­dents will have a fac­ulty mentor from both North­eastern and their orig­inal schools. They will also have men­tors from the energy industry and orga­ni­za­tions such as the Greater Boston chapter of the Amer­ican Asso­ci­a­tion of Blacks in Energy, while get­ting sup­port from their peers from var­ious North­eastern stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions such as Northeastern’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engi­neers and the Society of His­panic Pro­fes­sional Engi­neers. In fact, once stu­dents com­plete the pro­gram, the goal is for them to become alumni men­tors to cur­rent S-​​POWER students.

Stu­dents will also be con­nected with a variety of uni­ver­sity resources, including the John D. O’Bryant African-​​American Insti­tute, the Latino/​a Stu­dent Cul­tural Center, the Center for STEM Edu­ca­tion, and the North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Center for Energy Edu­ca­tion and Research.

The pro­gram will also involve studying, ana­lyzing, and doc­u­menting the bar­riers for under­rep­re­sented minority transfer stu­dents and dis­sem­i­nating best prac­tices to both Northeastern’s partner insti­tu­tions and the broader higher edu­ca­tion community.

Brad Lehman, pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, is prin­cipal inves­ti­gator on the project, whose lead­er­ship team includes co-​​principal inves­ti­ga­tors: Harris; Mar­ilyn Minus, asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering; Claire Duggan, director of the Center for STEM Edu­ca­tion at North­eastern; and Khalil Shu­jaee, pro­fessor of com­puter sci­ence at Clark Atlanta University.