Indian-American professor leads $1.5 million study on Hispanic graduation rates

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Sudarshan Kurwadkar, center, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, is directing the STEM project to advance undergraduate student success in engineering and computer science. Co-directing the effort are faculty colleagues Yu Bai, from left, Antoinette Linton, Salvador Mayoral, Jidong Huang, Paulina Reina and Doina Bein. (Photo: Fullerton.edu)

An Indian-American professor at California State University-Fullerton, is leading a team of researcher to study how retention and graduation rates can be increased primarily among Hispanics and other underrepresented students majoring in engineering and computer science.

The project directed by Sudarshan Kurwadkar, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, has won a nearly $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation. Entitled, “Building Capacity: Advancing Student Success in Undergraduate Engineering and Computer Science,” the effort also hopes to reduce the high repeat rate in introductoy courses for engineering and computer science students, and to lower the achievement gap, the University said in a press release.

The grant is from the National Science Foundation’s “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program.” Fullerton was named a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2004. The U.S. Department of Education gives this recognition to non-profit educational institutions with at least a 25 percent Hispanic student population. At Fullerton, Hispanics make up more than 40 percent of the student population. Nearly 70 percent of those enrolled at Fullerton are students of color.

“Economic disparity, family obligations, cultural conditioning and prior academic preparation create an uneven competition between these students and their economically better-off counterparts, thereby perpetuating the achievement gap,” Kurwadkar is quoted saying in the press release.

“This implies that underrepresentation of minority and female populations in STEM majors is a systemic problem that requires not only academic interventions, but also socio-cultural interventions,” Kurwadkar emphasized. This project is particularly important to tackle these challenges and improve undergraduate education in engineering and computer science, the Indian-American professor said.

Faculty members co-directing the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) project are: Jidong Huang, professor of electrical engineering; Salvador Mayoral, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Doina Bein, assistant professor of computer science; Antoinette Linton, assistant professor of secondary education; Paulina Reina, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Yu Bai, assistant professor of computer engineering.

The project plans to select 200 students each year for the project, 50 of them taking part in a first-year research experience. The students will work in teams on a yearlong design project with a faculty adviser from each of the disciplines within the College of Engineering and Computer Science. The first class of 200 students for the grant-funded effort is in the process of being selected.

“Through this project’s holistic approach to learning, it will increase students’ retention and improve their chances of being successful in STEM majors, and ultimately, prepare them to be ready for the needs of the 21st-century engineering and technical workforce,” Kurwadkar said.

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