Idea Scholars

IDEA Scholars

The first cohort of IDEA Scholars graduated in June.

Scholars program boosts graduation rates of students historically underrepresented in engineering.

Over the past four years, when the going got tough, bioengineering major Ismael Munoz knew he could always rely on his fellow IDEA Scholars for encouragement and a sense of community. “I see my peers doing crazy awesome projects and that motivates me to excel,” he said. “We encourage each other.”

Munoz wants to become a neuroscientist and is now well on his way to realizing his dreams. He and 15 of his classmates at the Jacobs School of Engineering were part of the first class of IDEA Scholars. The program is designed to increase retention and graduation rates for students underrepresented in the field of engineering, including low-income and first-generation students, women, and students coming from low-performing school districts and underserved communities.

“We tell them: we’re here to see you through to graduation, to help you realize your dream and make it come true,” said Michelle Ferrez, director of the IDEA Student Center at the Jacobs School.

Building and maintaining a sense of community is key, according to mechanical engineering professor Olivia Graeve, the incoming faculty director of the IDEA Student Center. “They have the sense that they belong to something bigger than themselves,” she said.

When all 16 of the first cohort of IDEA Scholars graduate by summer 2016, the IDEA Scholars program will have retained all but six of the 22 students it started out with. Two of the six remaining students in the program switched from engineering to another STEM major. The other four students are pursuing engineering degrees closer to home.

IDEA Scholars take part in the residential Summer Freshmen PrEP program so that on their first day of classes, they can already see familiar faces among their fellow students. All IDEA Scholars enroll in the ENG 1-3 class series to learn time management,

study skills and engineering research methods. They also attend technical workshops on topics such as programming with Python and MATLAB and designing with CAD. Incoming IDEA Scholars are mentored by upperclassmen in the program and give back to the community by getting involved in outreach programs.

The IDEA Scholars program has now grown from 22 to 50 students per year, and the goal is to expand it further. “The model is scalable,” said Ferrez.

When undergraduate research, mentorship by faculty and peers, and student-cohort building are combined, overall academic success and engineering student retention rates increase, especially for underrepresented students, first-generation students and women, explained Ferrez.

In addition, these kinds of programs positively impact students’ career decisions, including the choice to go to graduate school, she said.

“We look forward to growing our IDEA Scholars Program in order to serve more students, further diversify the engineering talent pipeline and have a greater impact on engineering student retention,” said Ferrez.


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