News Release

Six Things That Are Contributing to Student Success at the Jacobs School

San Diego, Calif., June 26, 2017 - At the University of California San Diego, Jacobs School of Engineering, IDEA stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Excellence and Achievement. The IDEA Engineering Student Center fosters an inclusive and welcoming community, works to increase retention and graduation rates, and promotes a culture of academic excellence among all engineering students at UC San Diego.

“Our vision of success goes beyond simply graduating students,” said Olivia Graeve, the faculty director of the IDEA Engineering Student Center and a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Jacobs School. “We also aim for academic achievement; full participation in all programs and learning experiences the school has to offer; and assurance that graduates are well positioned for launching a professional career or pursuing an advanced degree.”

To achieve that vision, Graeve and her team at the IDEA Engineering Student Center  implemented a school-wide master plan for student success in Summer 2015 called the Jacobs School Student Success Initiative, which is aimed at increasing retention and diversity in engineering through academic support, community building and leadership opportunities.

The following six programs and initiatives highlight how the IDEA Engineering Student Center is transforming education at the Jacobs School.


1.  Summer Engineering Institute

The IDEA Engineering Student Center’s Summer Engineering Institute is a five-week academic, residential summer program for incoming Jacobs School students. The IDEA Engineering Student Center created this program to replace the five-day program for incoming engineering students called Summer PrEP. The students in the program are primarily from fourth and fifth quintile high schools.

Over the course of the five weeks, participating students take ENG 10, which is a class that boosts math skills while helping students discover – through hands-on projects – how math is used to solve engineering problems.  Students also take an introductory technical class from their major that will count towards their engineering degree.

In summer 2016, over 60 incoming Jacobs School students participated. The program will be larger in summer 2017.

During the Summer Engineering Institute, students also attend academic and technical workshops as well as research seminars, participate in community-building activities facilitated by current undergraduate engineering students (Peer Facilitators) who also serve as their mentors, work together in study groups, and get a comprehensive introduction to many campus resources available to students.

“On our 2016 post-program survey, almost all the students indicated that they felt they had gotten a jump start at the Jacobs School both academically and socially,” said Michelle Ferrez, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the IDEA Engineering Student Center. “They also reported increased knowledge and technical ability, and indicated that they felt that the Jacobs School would provide a comprehensive and inclusive learning environment during the course of their studies.”


2.  Academic Community for Engineering Success (ACES) Program

In 2016, the Jacobs School of Engineering launched a new scholarship program for PELL-eligible engineering students.  Through the new program, funded by the National Science Foundation, highly motivated engineering students from economically under-resourced schools get access to a wide range of academic support services aimed at helping them succeed in their chosen engineering majors at the Jacobs School.

The program includes admission to the Summer Engineering Institute, faculty mentorship, a collaborative peer support community, as well as other academic enrichment programs.

The National Science Foundation awarded the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering just over $800,000 to implement the new scholarship program, which is part of a consortium that consists so far of six universities including the University of California, San Diego; Boise State University; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the University of Washington; Washington State University; and the University of Colorado, Boulder. The six members are administering scholarships and academic support to approximately 800 students across the program. 

Read more about this program here.


3.  Engineering Learning Communities (ELC)

Engineering Learning Communities are formal study groups that bring engineering students into a supportive environment where they can develop confidence, strengthen study skills, and learn the value of collaborative study. The small class environment seeks to increase student mastery and motivation by eliminating the intimidating large classes that engineering students experience particularly in the freshman year.

Joanne Ly, a fourth year chemical engineering student, led a study group this past year.

“This program has helped me learn how to better communicate my ideas and

work with different types of students,” said Ly. “Since I prepare to teach the material instead of pass a class, I better understand the content and can apply what I teach to many of my current calculus-focused engineering courses.”

Aaron Ramos is a first year student majoring in chemical engineering. He was part of the study group that Ly led.

“The learning community provided me with much needed practice, as well as the chance to receive clarification on challenging topics, helping me to perform significantly better in the class,” said Ramos, who decided to lead an engineering learning community next year.

Students also reported that the learning communities helped  them develop new problem-solving strategies, better self-reflection skills, improved collaboration abilities, and elevated self-confidence.

2016-2017 is the second academic year engineering learning communities have been in place. The program started out with sessions in calculus, and because of their success, the IDEA Engineering Student Center added sessions in physics and chemistry this year.


4.  oSTEM

The IDEA Engineering Student Center recently helped launch the UC San Diego chapter of oSTEM, which stands for Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. oSTEM is a national society dedicated to educating and fostering leadership for LGBTQA+ communities in the STEM fields through professional development workshops and social activities.

Bioengineering undergraduate Matthew Jaconetta was one of the initial driving forces behind oSTEM, which he saw as a way to help build community and empower students.

“My mission has been fostering a strong community for the queer students on this campus,” said Jaconetta. “A sense of belonging is directly correlated to how much you want to stay [at a school]…the retention rate.”

UC San Diego is the third UC school to join the more than 50 chapters across the country.

“We became an official student organization this quarter and have 25-30 people show up regularly to meetings,” said Jaconetta. “It really demonstrates the need.”

oSTEM is an umbrella organization, meaning it’s not just for engineering students, but LGBTQA+ students of all majors. For more information about meetings, visit their Facebook page at

Additionally, oSTEM is just one of an entire suite of student organizations aimed at helping students succeed and thrive academically, socially and personally. Learn about undergraduate student organizations, and graduate student organizations.


5.  Engineering graduate and postdoctoral scholarly talks

Throughout the academic year, Jacobs School graduate students and postdoctoral researchers have the option to attend approximately 24 academic, professional, and technical training workshops organized by the IDEA Engineering Student Center. Topics have included:

  • How to Synthesize and Write an Effective Literature Review
  • How to Develop a Powerful Scientific Research Presentation for Diverse Audiences
  • Establishing Key Benchmarks Towards a Ph.D.
  • How to Write a Research Proposal and Peer Reviews
  • Careers in Engineering Outside of Academia
  • Transitioning into a Faculty Position

The series also includes technical workshops (i.e., Python and Deep Learning).

“These seminars provide opportunities for engineering graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to come together to share information, collaborate on research and/or professional interests, and to think about their research and career in broader terms,” said Ferrez.


6.  IDEA Scholars Program

On June 16th, 2017, the largest graduating class of IDEA Scholars took part in the 3rd Annual IDEA Scholars Graduation Reception. Many of them are PhD-bound.

The goal of the Jacobs School's IDEA Scholars Program, which was established in 2011, is to foster community building and academic excellence among incoming freshman engineering students from diverse backgrounds. IDEA Scholars are selected by IDEA Faculty from students who attend the Summer Engineering Institute.

“Predominantly from groups that are underrepresented in engineering and/or the first in their family to graduate with a bachelor's degree, our IDEA Scholars graduate with an engineering degree from UC San Diego at a rate of 20% more than students from the same demographic population who joined the Jacobs School of Engineering at the same time,” said Gennie Miranda, Director of Operations at the IDEA Engineering Student Center.

Read more about how this program boosts retention rates here.

As a cohort, IDEA Scholars follow an Academic Enrichment Plan that includes:

  • Priority access to scholarships and internships
  • Mentoring from Jacobs School students, alumni and faculty
  • Personal, professional and leadership development opportunities
  • Involvement in undergraduate research
  • Networking opportunities with companies
  • IDEA scholar medal upon graduation

When asked to summarize the IDEA Engineering Student Center’s programs and initiatives, Graeve said: “Our Center is poised to impact engineering students in a very significant way.  We are here to serve every one of them.”

If you are a Jacobs School alum or a member of local industry and want to learn more about how you can get involved, visit us online.

Media Contacts

Daniel Kane
Jacobs School of Engineering

Brittanie Collinsworth
UC San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation