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Celebrating 10 years of IDEA Engineering Student Center success

Students in the Transfer Prep summer program, run by the IDEA Engineering Student Center.

San Diego, Calif., Oct. 13, 2020 -- This fall marks the 10th year of the IDEA Engineering Student Center, one of the cornerstones of student life at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. In the past decade, the IDEA— Inclusion, Diversity, Excellence, Achievement—Engineering Student Center has supported thousands of students through to graduation through its various programs, including summer prep and mentorship programs, peer-led engineering learning communities, support for student diversity organizations, and more.

The IDEA Engineering Student Center’s mission is to support all students on the challenging path of an engineering and computer science education at UC San Diego, with specific programs that build community, and provide academic and peer support for students traditionally underrepresented in engineering and computer science including Black, Latinx and Native American students, women, first generation college students, LGBTQ+ students, and low-income students.

Students say IDEA Center support and programming has been critical to their choosing to stay in engineering majors, and finding the resources they needed to thrive.

“My early undergraduate years were really difficult,” said Gladys Ornelas, a first generation college student who earned her bachelor’s degree in bioengineering at UC San Diego in 2016 and is currently working toward her PhD in bioengineering, also at UC San Diego.  “It was through IDEA that I learned about all of these programs that helped me. It’s because of IDEA that I met some of my closest mentors—they were graduate students at the time and helped me find a research position, which is a big part of why I decided to pursue graduate school.”

The IDEA Center was started in fall 2010 with a goal of supporting undergraduate students at the Jacobs School, with a particular focus on students from groups underrepresented in engineering. In 2010, Jacobs School faculty, staff, students and industry partners worked together to create and implement evidence-based programs meant to provide the community and resources for these undergraduate students to succeed through to graduation.

“The IDEA Engineering Student Center is here to foster an inclusive and welcoming community, increase retention rates, and promote a sustainable culture of academic excellence among all engineering students at UC San Diego,” said Olivia Graeve, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and faculty director of the IDEA Center.

The IDEA Center is home to many programs meant to accomplish these goals—Jacobs Undergraduate Mentorship Program, the Summer Engineering Institute, Engineering Learning Communities, the Engineering Overnight Program, and workshop series on both technical and career advice topics. The IDEA Center staff also run the decade-old flagship IDEA Scholars program—for students underrepresented in engineering-- and the newer ACES Scholars program—for low-income students.

IDEA Scholars participate in the Summer Engineering Institute before their freshman year, and then follow an academic enrichment plan including one-on-one mentoring with IDEA Center staff, community discussions, peer mentoring, and involvement in a student organization or research lab. IDEA Scholars get priority access to scholarships and internships, a well as networking opportunities with local companies and mentoring from Jacobs School alumni and faculty. The IDEA Scholars program serves as a model for the ACES Scholars program, which serves low-income students.

“I would definitely say that the IDEA Scholars program was helpful, especially because it kind of gave us early access to the engineering learning communities and that tutoring really did help me with my classes and kind of transitioning myself to college,” said Laura Gutierrez, an environmental engineering student, IDEA Scholar and Jacobs School Racial Equity Fellow (link). “Being an IDEA Scholar and being part of the Summer Engineering Institute did play a big role in where I am now. It was the mentors that I met during the Summer Engineering Institute who pushed me to join SHPE [Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers], and then it was kind of just the cycle of like if that hadn't happened, then this other thing wouldn’t have happened.”

And data shows that the program works. The 5-year graduation rate of underrepresented minority students from the original 2011 cohort of IDEA Scholars was 21% higher than that of their non-IDEA Scholar engineering freshmen peers from underrepresented student groups who were admitted at the same time. Furthermore, for all cohorts of IDEA Scholars since the program’s start, underrepresented minority students participating in the program have persisted in engineering at higher rates than all other underrepresented students in their respective cohorts. Among the first seven cohorts of IDEA Scholars, underrepresented minority students saw an average 11% higher retention rate by the final quarter of their third year.

 “We can see that the IDEA Center’s academic programs and avenues for community building are working,” said Gennie Miranda, director of operations for the Center. “We are excited to celebrate 10 years of success with our alumni and students this year, sharing their stories of where they are now.”

The IDEA Center is planning to host several virtual events to celebrate a decade of student success, including a panel with founding faculty director Carlos Coimbra and current faculty director Olivia Graeve, as well as virtual celebrations of their alumni’s successes.

“While we celebrate the strides we’ve made in the last 10 years, we can also see that the work of the IDEA Center alone isn’t sufficient to realize our goal of an equitable Jacobs School,” Graeve said. “We’re looking forward to being involved in the recently launched Jacobs School Racial Equity Task Force and campus-wide initiatives to continue to push for a Jacobs School and a UC San Diego that is more reflective of our broader community.”

Media Contacts

Katherine Connor
Jacobs School of Engineering
858-534-8374
khconnor@eng.ucsd.edu

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