The Engineering School's Office of Minority Programs has been attracting national attention -- and now a Presidential Award -- with its efforts to increase the recruitment, retention and graduation rate of minority students.
The Office uses a variety of recruitment methods and mentorship programs, including a weeklong residential program for rising high school juniors and seniors, a summer bridge academy for first years, professional internships and research projects with University faculty.
Carolyn Vallas, director of the Office for Minority Programs, said such efforts are necessary because minorities are underrepresented in engineering programs at the University and across the nation.
President Clinton recently honored Vallas and the Office of Minority Programs with the 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. The award recognizes individuals and groups that have been exemplary in their encouragement of minorities, women and persons with disabilities to pursue careers in scientific, engineering and technical fields.
Ten individuals and five institutions from across the country received the award, which was administered by the National Science Foundation.
Receiving the award is like being thanked for "a job well done," Vallas said.
In addition to offering academic support for University students, the Office also tries to encourage promising minority high school students to commit to a career in engineering.
Vallas said part of the program's success stems from the fact that it keeps students interested in engineering.
"A lot of students have other commitments such as maintaining scholarship requirements and working, which is difficult when in the engineering program," she added.
"The OMP helps the students maintain a positive attitude," Vallas said. "Students want to go to a place where they see others are succeeding."
More than 250 minority undergraduate students and more than 120 graduate students have received degrees from the Engineering School over the last 10 years.
"Part of the reason we attract students is because of awards like this," Assoc. Dean of Engineering Milton Adams said.
The program is successful because it helps students realize they can succeed, Adams said.
"It is something the University can be proud of," he said.