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New program aimed at helping low-income, high-achieving students

MIE Professor and Department Head Houshang Darabi

UIC is set to launch a new program geared toward increasing degree completion of low-income, high-achieving students.

MIE Professor and Department Head Houshang Darabi has been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for the project titled “Removing the Disparity in Success-Related Outcomes Between Academically Talented Low-Income Engineering Students and Other Engineering Students.”

Throughout its five-year duration, this project will fund scholarships for 51 full-time students, who are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in engineering or computer science. First-year students and transfer students will receive four years of scholarship support.

“This project will contribute to the national need for well-educated scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technicians by supporting the retention and graduation of high-achieving, low-income students with demonstrated financial need,” Darabi said.

Darabi is collaborating with Peter Nelson, College of Engineering dean and professor in computer science; Miiri Kotche, associate dean for undergraduate affairs and a clinical professor in biomedical engineering; Renata A. Revelo Alonso, clinical associate professor in electrical and computer engineering; Betul Bilgin, clinical associate professor in chemical engineering; Shanon Reckinger clinical associate professor in computer science, and Aslihan Karatas, clinical assistant professor in civil, materials, and environmental engineering.

To achieve their goal, the team will leverage existing programs at UIC and incorporate improved activities, which include cohort building and nurturing throughout the undergraduate education, a three-pronged mentoring program with faculty, peers, and industry partners, and a professional practicum through a guaranteed paid internship program, senior preparation course, and a design project.

Darabi noted the project will have a direct impact on the participating scholars and future engineers in academia and the workforce.

“This has the potential to impact departmental policy making and program changes and may have a significant impact on other institutions and affect change at large,” Darabi said. “We are in a unique position in that implementation and development of a sustainable project has the potential to impact other institutions that are research intensive, have a significant portion of transfer students, or are minority-serving institutions.”

In addition to helping students, the researchers will be using multiple research methods to advance the understanding of how the students develop their engineering identity during their tenure at UIC.

“These are two groups that have been understudied in research,” Darabi said. “By providing higher financial support, the institutionalized components of the project will have a ripple effect that can impact the success of all engineering students.”

The team plans to focus on increasing one-year retention rates, six-year graduation rates, and the percentage of graduates with a major-related job offer/graduate study admission within six months of graduation.

The team will evaluate the project using multiple methods including quantitative methods in the form of surveys and qualitative methods in the form of interviews.