Tuesday, September 22, 2009

STEP begins fifth year welcoming new students to the CEAS

CEAS welcomed 391 incoming students at the Summer Orientation. According to Dr. Edmund Tsang, CEAS Associate Dean, about 85% of those students have been placed in STEP Learning Communities. STEP is an acronym for the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] Talent Expansion Program. The five-year-old program has been providing a comprehensive first-year experience to increase retention and graduation of majors in STEM fields.

At the STEP Kickoff, first-year students enjoyed hamburgers, bratwurst, and an opportunity to check out student projects in the works for this year.  In the foreground is the SAE Baja car, a new project. Other featured projects were the Formula SAE car, the Sunseeker solar car, the “Black Pearl” concrete canoe, and several tables that provided information about student organizations.

To connect first-year CEAS students with the college experience, Tsang organizes the freshmen into learning communities. The students in each learning community share at least three classes and are assigned to cohort groups of about 20 students. Each cohort is led by a CEAS faculty or administrative mentor with access to organized activities.

This year’s orientation events included CEAS Fall Welcome, Pizza with the Profs, and a STEP Kickoff picnic in the Valley pond area.

The Welcome offered incoming students an up-close experience with more than 30 Parkview Campus labs and activities. Students made paper, played red-button computer games, built spaghetti bridges, made plastic WMU license plates, and checked out a variety of vehicle, fuel cell, robotics, and simulation labs.

At the CEAS Fall Welcome, Mike Hoonhorst, a Ph.D. student in industrial engineering, explains chair research to first-year students.  Other CEAS faculty, administrators, and students shared their research in fuel cells, CAD, robotics, vehicle systems, and simulation software.  Students also examined a variety of CEAS labs and services.

Pizza with the Profs brought students and their professors together informally for lunch after a formal matriculation ceremony. Following the pizza lunch, the students participated in an interactive Academic Etiquette workshop and were assigned to send their IME 1020 Technical Communication instructors a professionally drafted e-mail.

The Kickoff provided another opportunity for students to meet and greet CEAS faculty, administrators, and students and to learn about CEAS while they enjoyed hamburgers and brats.

Following “Pizza with the Profs”, Dr. Edumnd Tsang (standing on left), CEAS associate dean and STEP director, works with first-year CEAS students on an Academic Etiquette Competition

New to STEP this year is an engineering mathematics course, funded by an NSF Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement: Phase 3 grant and headed by Tsang and Drs. Ikhlas Abdel-Qader and James Kamman, faculty in the Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering respectively.

The Early Intervention Initiative in IME 1020 Technical Communication is being continued under the direction of Tom Swartz, Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering faculty and IME 1020 coordinator. STEP is also pilot testing computer software designed by two computer science seniors to take attendance in IME 1420 Engineering Graphics.

Tsang began the STEP project in 2004 with an NSF grant that ends this month. The STEP project is being continued through 2009-2010 with funds provided by Provost Tim Greene. “Provost Greene also said he will put into the Office of Academic Affairs planning to support our retention efforts,” Tsang said. “Our collaboration with Residence Life will continue to allow us to leverage their resources to build on our efforts.”