TUSCALOOSA — The University of Alabama College of Engineering is using a National Science Foundation grant to start three preparatory classes and a scholarship fund in an effort to address student retention.
The grant will fund a one-credit preparatory class offered to students the semester before taking one of three gateway courses. Circuit analysis, statics and data structures/algorithms were chosen to be the focus of the scholarship program because they set the foundation for future courses to build on and are also known to be difficult for students.
“In electrical engineering, we have data that indicates that more than 95 percent of the students who pass the basic circuit analysis course will graduate with a B.S.E.E. degree,” said Dr. Susan Burkett, Alabama Power Foundation Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We can improve retention if we can get more students past that class.”
The preparatory class is designed to equip students with the tools they need for the next level by teaching them the fundamental concepts they will build on throughout their education as well as give students the opportunity to earn scholarship money.
“It’s really meant to go after courses that are obstacles for students with the hopes that we can retain them so they graduate,” Burkett said. “The scholarship is just another incentive to ease financial burdens.”
Students must successfully complete the preparatory course and have financial need to be eligible for the scholarship. The amount of each scholarship is based on financial need and can be renewed for two years.
“Generally, they are sophomores or juniors by the time they take circuits so that would be a scholarship they could have until they graduate,” Burkett said.
About 10 scholarships will be distributed among the three prep classes each year. The exact number of scholarships given depends on the amount needed by student scholars.
Burkett said the program will be called Learning in Advance, and those who receive a scholarship will be called LIA Scholars. Students will have to apply to the program.
In spring 2018, the prep classes will be open to about 25 students each, but in its first semester this fall, seven students are participating. Burkett plans to use their feedback to shape the course.
Learning in Advance crosses college lines too. The College of Arts & Sciences’ Institute for Social Science Research is using this program to investigate how these students feel about how they fit in to their chosen major and will compare student outcomes between those who take the prep course and those who don’t through surveys and focus groups.
The funding comes from the NSF program called S-STEM, or scholarships for STEM majors. Burkett said each university can only submit one proposal per college for the grant, and, at UA, anyone interested in applying had to compete internally first.
The program will receive $1 million over five years with the majority being scholarship money.
“It’s a neat program,” Burkett said. “We’re excited to get it.”