WWU Receives $1 million NSF Grant to Support the Success of Low-Income Students in Engineering

WWU Engineering faculty members Andy Klein and Sura Al-Qudah (above) have been awarded a five-year, $1 million S-STEM grant from the National Science Foundation to help low-income students in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in Engineering.

By JohnThompson
WWU Office of Communications and Marketing

Western Washington University’s Engineering and Design Department has been awarded a five-year, $1 million S-STEM grant from the National Science Foundation to help low-income students in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in one of the three Engineering programs at WWU.

The program, entitled “Becoming Engaged Engineering Scholars (BEES)” aims to address challenges in recruiting and retaining academically-talented, low-income students from diverse backgrounds into the undergraduate engineering programs.  The BEES program, coordinated by WWU Engineering faculty members Andy Klein and Sura Al-Qudah, will provide scholarships of up to $10,000 a year to about 48 students over the life of the five-year program.

In addition, about one-third of the NSF grant will be used to implement and study a sequence of academic, social, and career support structures specifically designed to enhance the success of low-income engineering students, said Al-Qudah.

“What we want to do is level the playing field for all our students, and put a system of support in place to improve retention of first- and second-year students from low-income backgrounds so they can succeed at the same rate as other students,” she said.

Klein agreed, saying that while scholarships are an important part of getting the students to apply to Western and move into the Engineering programs, it will be the integrated support systems and a departmental culture built around retention and student success that will play just as big a role in the program’s efficacy and sustainability.

“We know that first-generation students and Pell-grant-eligible students have a tougher time in our department, especially making it through the first two years. Our hope is that if we provide more targeted support, both from the department and from their peers, that will get these students on to their third and fourth years where retention is much less of an issue,” he said. “So focusing on those first two years will be critical.”

Cohorts of 12 students per year will enter the NSF-funded program, and while their first two years are spent receiving monetary, academic, and social support from the department, their second two years flip the script and have them acting as peer support for the newest, incoming student cohorts.

“We are also using this project to establish an engineering presence in existing first-year programs at Western such as the Viking Launch and FIG (First-year Interest Groups) programs,” said Klein.

Al-Qudah said the decision to apply for the grant was a reflection of the importance the department is putting on equity and inclusion through its three engineering disciplines of Electrical Engineering, Manufacturing Engineering, and Plastics and Composites Engineering.

“We want as diverse a group of students as possible,” she said. “We are working to make it clearer that our doors are open to students from different groups and backgrounds, because we know what diversity of thought and experience brings to a campus, and how important that is.”

Incoming students from low-income backgrounds who are interested in majoring in engineering are encouraged to apply to the program.  A website containing an application to the BEES program can be found at https://cse.wwu.edu/engineering-design/bees

For more information on WWU’s new NSF grant and the BEES Program, contact Andy Klein, Western Washington University associate professor of Engineering and Design, at andy.klein@wwu.edu; or Sura Al-Qudah, Western Washington University assistant professor of Engineering and Design, at sura.alqudah@wwu.edu.