LAWRENCE — A new initiative in the University of Kansas School of Engineering aims to expand and fill the pipeline of underrepresented engineers, including women and minorities, with an array of programs aimed at students as young as middle school.
The new KUEST program — the acronym stands KU Engineering, Science, and Technology — comes from IHAWKe, the umbrella organization for KU Engineering’s Diversity and Women's programs.
The goal: To attract students to KU who might have the talent to succeed, but perhaps not the resources — or even the support to get started.
“We're targeting, as much as possible, low-income, first-generation students,” said Andrew Williams, associate dean for engineering diversity, equity & inclusion, “because those students don't always have the background knowledge about the college experience.”
The proposed program includes targeting young students for encouragement and recruitment in engineering, computer science and information technology fields, then offering those students support to enroll in and thrive at college, as well as help starting their careers.
"There's a lot of untapped talent, if they can get over the barriers and obstacles to getting to KU, but also to getting interested in these fields," Williams said.
Under the proposal, KUEST would:
- Engage middle school students with engineering day camps held at partner schools.
- Encourage high school students by bringing them to KU campus for tours of the School of Engineering, creative engineering projects, ACT test prep and training seniors to mentor younger students in the program.
- Help incoming students by offering a full-week “acclimation program” with learning, research and study skills training.
- The creation of a “living and learning community” for scholarship recipients, as well as access to project-based learning activities, peer mentoring and internship opportunities.
In 2017, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics concluded that blacks, Hispanics and persons with disabilities are underrepresented in science and engineering jobs — half of which are held by white men, who otherwise comprise just a third of the US population.
The KUEST proposal would try to make KU a leader in addressing those issues.
“It's a population that's underrepresented,” Williams said of the target audience for KUEST.
IHAWKe has gotten a head start on its efforts: In April, KU hosted 300 students from Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kansas, for a day of engineering presentations and robot demonstrations.
Williams said IHAWKe will be starting pilot projects this fall with Schlagle and Washington high schools in Kansas City, Kansas. There will also be some on-campus pilot programs starting during the 2018-19 school year, even as Williams seeks funding from private companies, government agencies and more to help bring the entire program to fruition.
“All these things cost money,” Williams said, adding that he was soliciting support from companies like ExxonMobil and IBM. “We're wanting to raise more funds from companies and donors. We need more scholarships because the financial needs are important in the families.”
IHAWKe (Indigenous, Hispanic, African American, Women, KU Engineering) is the umbrella organization for KU Engineering’s Diversity and Women’s. IHAWKe’s theme is to recruit and engage students to become team-oriented innovators who use engineering and computing to change the world, connect with others and conquer their classes. IHAWKe also aims to increase the number of underrepresented students who pursue graduate degrees and faculty positions in engineering. IHAWKe student groups include American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and KU Women in Computing (KUWIC).
IHAWKe KUEST Curriculum
- The IHAWKe KUEST program will have engineering experiences tailored to different grade levels:
- KUEST Girls / KUEST Boys - middle school engineering day camps held at partner schools.
- KUEST 9 - half-day tour of KU and School of Engineering with IHAWKe student panel for ninth-graders.
- KUEST 10 - full-day creative engineering, hands-on project for sophomores.
- KUEST 11 – two-day engineering workshop with ACT test prep for 11th-graders.
- KUEST 12 - senior students participate as mentors for KUEST 10.
- KUEST ONE - full week residential engineering acclimation program with project-based learning, research, study skills training for graduated seniors entering KU. (ONE stands for "Outstanding New Engineers.")
- KUEST Bridge – eight-week summer program with calculus, engineering, cultural studies courses, tutoring and study skills for KUEST Scholars.
- KUEST Scholars - living and learning community and cohort building for industry and donor-sponsored scholarship recipients.
- IHAWke First - first-year experience for KUEST scholars and IHAWKe students including advising, mentoring, programming and project-based learning.