Published: April 25, 2019

Sarah Miller

CU Boulder is taking a leading role on a new $10 million National Science Foundation grant to increase the number of community college students who go on to study engineering at four-year colleges, a move intended to help pave the way for a more diverse workforce.

Millions of U.S. students finish high school ill-prepared in math, despite their aptitude for it. If they enroll at a community college — as many low-income, first-generation, minority and working college students do — they’re often so far behind that it’s hard to gain proficiency for timely transfer to a four-year engineering degree program.

The CU Boulder team and partners aim to help community college students study math intensively by providing specialized resources, 
such as tutoring and STEM internships, and by lowering 
common barriers, such as financial aid and access to appropriate transportation and childcare.

“Society needs more engineers, and more diversity in engineering,” said Sarah Miller, one of CU Boulder’s principal investigators and an assistant dean in the College of Engineering, who is directing the initiative in partnership with Saddleback College in California. “America’s community colleges have a vast trove of talented students, and we need to make the pathway to engineering for them accessible.” 

The college is also taking the lead in a three-year grant awarded through the NSF Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) program. 

Sean Shaheen, associate professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering, and Janet Yowell of CU Boulder’s Center for STEM Learning are directing the Authentic Research Experiences for Teachers (ARETe) program, which uses a train-the-trainer model to match community college faculty with CU Boulder engineering faculty to conduct research on the Boulder campus. 

The program provides community college faculty with professional development, mentoring and training on how to conduct research. Faculty will use what they’ve learned to create in-class research experiences at their home colleges, multiplying an effect that will connect community college students across the Front Range to research at CU Boulder 
for years to come.