NSF grant to help Penn State retain underrepresented engineering students

Penn State Berks professor co-leading program

READING, Pa. -- Penn State Berks is one of four Penn State campuses to receive funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a summer bridge program to enhance the retention rate of racially underrepresented and first-generation engineering students.

The NSF has awarded Penn State a grant of $1,769,793 for the proposal, “Sustainable Bridges from Campus to Campus: Retention Models for Transitioning Engineering Students.” Amy Freeman of the Office of Engineering Diversity (Penn State College of Engineering) is the principal investigator (PI) and Pradip Bandyopadhyay, professor of physics and head of science at Penn State Berks, serves as one of the three co-PIs for the proposal. The grant is a collaborative effort between the College of Engineering at University Park and three Penn State campuses: Abington, Altoona and Berks. It will be in effect from Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2020.

The Sustainable Bridges proposal seeks to apply and compare bridge solutions to first- and second-year student populations who participate. Across the Penn State regional undergraduate campuses, Abington, Altoona and Berks have the largest populations of racially underrepresented engineering students (45 percent of the total).

The summer bridge program at Berks, titled “Engineering Summer Enhancement through Science Education” (ESESE), aims to create a support system and provide academic enhancement for incoming underrepresented engineering students from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to ensure success in college. Intense exposure to mathematics, as well as basic skill building hands-on activities, typical of the engineering disciplines, form the curricular backbone of the program.

In addition to close daily interaction with the faculty, participants will be exposed to cooperative learning under the supervision of upperclass engineering and science peer mentors. Guest lectures and hands-on activities in physics, chemistry, biology and engineering will demonstrate the application of calculus in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. To support academic success and cohort building, the following will round out the bridge curriculum: study skills, time management, career planning, an introduction to campus resources, site visits to local engineering firms, and weekend recreational activities.

The adaptation of three summer bridge models at the Abington, Altoona and Berks campuses, coupled with the implementation of programs at the campuses for students transitioning to University Park, will be carried out to develop long-term sustainability plans for these programs, and to compare the effectiveness of different bridge models.

The project centers on student retention in baccalaureate engineering majors following the entrance-to-major process, when Penn State students officially declare a major at the beginning of the junior year. The grant seeks to enhance the three-year retention rates, specifically at the three regional campuses. Secondary outcome measures are retention in STEM majors and retention at the University. The broader impact of increasing the retention of underrepresented students in baccalaureate engineering majors originates from the urgent need to expand the pool of STEM graduates, especially racially underrepresented students.

“At Penn State Berks, we celebrate diversity in every facet of our academic community, striving to create a support system in addition to the academic enhancement component for all of our students, including the incoming underrepresented engineering students from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds,” said Bandyopadhyay. “The proposed Engineering Summer Bridge Programs at Penn State will provide that kind of a support system for our underrepresented engineering students and will prepare them for a successful transition to the college and ensure success in their academic journey.”

For more information about the Summer Bridge Program at Penn State Berks, contact Bandyopadhyay at 610-396-6034 or via email at

Pradip Bandyopadhyay, professor of physics and head of science at Penn State Berks, is co-leading a new collaborative program to increase the number and diversity of graduating engineering students at Penn State. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 08, 2015