NSF-funded scholarships support success for low-income students

Feb 4, 2019

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

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Thanks to a recent five-year grant to the Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity, 42 UCLA Samueli undergraduates have received academic scholarships of up to $5,000 each.

The Broadening Ecosystem Attributes for Talented Scholars (BEATS) scholarship, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is available to high-potential, low-income engineering students.

The scholarships are offered through the longstanding CEED program, which addresses the unique challenges that underrepresented students face in pursuing an engineering education and career.

Sophia -CEED NSF Scholarship“The main thing that CEED does is it gives you a community of people like yourself that would be hard to find in your classes,” said scholarship recipient Sophia Martinez, a second-year aerospace engineering major. “You come in as a freshman, and you meet about 60 people who have the same background as you.”

 

With a dedicated study lounge in Boelter Hall, CEED is an on-campus home for students who are American Indian, African American, Latino/a, Mexican American, or Pacific Islander. The center offers a range of academic support programs, including workshops for core math, chemistry, physics and engineering courses. It also offers professional development opportunities, such as its annual corporate roundtable dinner, where more than 100 students meet with representatives from some of the world’s top technology companies.

“Smart, high performing, low-income students of color are mostly educated in underperforming and under-resourced high schools, so the largest attrition for underrepresented students in STEM majors occurs in their freshmen year, or in their first year if they are transferring in from a community college,” said Rick Ainsworth, the executive director of CEED. “They might not be as prepared for the intensity of first and second-year STEM courses as their peers, and that’s where CEED puts a lot of our focus. The BEATS program will go a long way toward that preparation for many of our students.”

Martinez has wanted to design spacecraft since she was in elementary school. This year, she is the technical manager for the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s rocket project, working with the electrical and mechanical team leads.

For some students, the BEATS scholarship has opened up more time for studies that would otherwise have been spent working at jobs. Dimeji Adeyemo, a fourth-year materials engineering major, has been able to cut back on hours at his on-campus catering services job.

Dimeji - NSF Scholarship“It’s helped me a lot,” said Adeyemo, who is also minoring in bioinformatics. “I haven’t had to take a loan this year, and it’s just good to know you don’t have to worry too much about your finances.”

 

 

For other scholarship recipients, participating in CEED’s career training offerings has made a big difference.

Eunice - NSF Scholarship“The most important thing they have taught me is how to network,” said Eunice Alvarado, third-year bioengineering major and scholarship recipient. “Networking creates a lot of anxiety for people, but just interacting with people who are actually in the industry has helped me feel a lot more comfortable.”

 

Last summer, Alvarado had an internship at the headquarters of Genentech, a biotechnology company based in South San Francisco, Calif. This year, she’s an active member with the Society for Women Engineers.

Over the past 15 years, CEED has an excellent track record retaining students and seeing them to completing their degree in an engineering or computer science major. During this period, and continuing, 79% of UCLA CEED freshmen and transfer students have stayed in and graduated in engineering — a rate that is twice the national mean percentage for underrepresented engineering freshmen students.

“Nationally, it’s a major challenge for underrepresented students to first pursue and then persist in STEM Careers,” Ainsworth said. “CEED here at UCLA has been a model program on how to approach this complex problem, but we rely on support from our corporate partners and NSF programs like BEATS.”

Image L to R: Five recipients of the BEATS scholarship: Fredy Gochez, third-year aerospace engineering major; Eunice Alvarado, third-year bioengineering major; Dimeji Adeyemo, fourth-year materials engineering major; Sophia Martinez, second-year aerospace engineering major; and Steven Lara, third-year computer science major.

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