The National Science Foundation awarded $999,984 to The University of Toledo to operate an innovative program that supports academically talented and low-income students who want to pursue an engineering degree.
The program known as GEARSET — which stands for Greater Equity, Access and Readiness for Success in Engineering and Technology — creates an alternative pathway to a bachelor’s degree in engineering for first-year students who did not meet the College of Engineering’s requirements and were admitted into University College’s Department of Exploratory Studies.
“This population is generally more diverse in terms of both ethnicity and socioeconomic status than the demographic trends for engineering colleges across the country,” said program leader Dr. Lesley Berhan, associate professor in the UToledo Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, and associate dean for diversity, inclusion and community engagement.
“GEARSET will ultimately increase diversity in the College of Engineering — a priority for both the University and employers who hire our graduates,” said Dr. Mike Toole, dean of the UToledo College of Engineering.
“Our pursuit of inclusive excellence is a key part of our strategic plan, our core values, and what we do on a daily basis. This grant will enable us to provide a new pathway to a degree in engineering for deserving students, further enabling us to provide a diverse pipeline of talented engineers to the region.”
Students who meet the program’s admission criteria, which include testing into trigonometry and a minimum high school grade point average of 3.0, will meet regularly with engineering advisors and enroll in courses designed to introduce engineering principles, applications of mathematics and professional development, in addition to other classes needed to meet the College of Engineering’s transfer requirements.
“By building a sense of belonging, developing the students’ engineering identity, and shortening the time to transfer colleges, we will foster a more inclusive environment in the College of Engineering that is more reflective of the community we serve and the University as a whole,” Berhan said.
As part of the five-year grant, two cohorts of low-income students also will receive a scholarship for up to seven semesters once they transfer into the College of Engineering. The scholarships, based on need, would average $6,400 a year.
Berhan said GEARSET, which debuted as a pilot program with a total of 32 students at the start of the 2019-20 academic year, is designed to help students who may have had limited access to college and career counseling in high school.
“Some students may have an interest in being an engineer, but may not have had the exposure or opportunities that others have in high school,” Berhan said. “Those students can still be great engineers. We have to rethink how we define potential and recognize that talent comes in all forms.”
The NSF grant starts Jan. 1 and can support scholarships for approximately 40 students, as well as curriculum, advising and programming for an estimated 150 additional students. The program is accepting all students, but only low-income students will be eligible for scholarships.
“This award represents an important step forward in the effort to foster STEM education in our community,” said Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. “By creating a pipeline for more socioeconomic and ethnically diverse engineering students in our region, this funding provides a pathway for future minds to break into these important fields. The award is a model to ensure our students are at the table for the economic future of our community.”
Berhan leads many diversity initiatives aimed at encouraging more students to pursue engineering careers, such as the annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.
“The long-term benefits to the college and the community are incredible,” Berhan said. “We are working on several different fronts to improve math and science preparedness, access, and student success.”