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Federal Grant to Help Engineering Physics Program Attract More Students

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – NOVEMBER 14, 2013 – Marymar Garcia came to the realization that few females were pursing higher level mathematics courses as she looked around her dual enrollment Calculus 1 class while she was a student at Brownsville’s Lopez High School.

Garcia said she enjoyed mathematics and at the time thought about becoming a teacher. But during her junior year she decided to pursue engineering as a career as she learned about the field from her father Juan Garcia, an electrical engineer in Houston.

Now Garcia, 22, a senior at The University of Texas at Brownsville, is designing her own LC multimeter used by engineers to measure electrical charge storage and current.

Ana Karla Castillo and Ruben Leal work on an assignment in Dr. Nazmul Islam's Engineering Electronics Lab on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013.
Paul Chouy / UT Brownsville

“My goal is to make it cheaper, more economically friendly and more efficient,” said Garcia.

There are 296 declared engineering physics majors at the university with 5 percent, or 15 students, being female. Garcia wants more females to pursue the field as a career.

Now, a grant could help do just that.

The Engineering Physics Program in the School of Engineering and Computational Science in the College of Science, Mathematics and Technology has received a $654,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program.

The purpose of the three-year grant is to boost retention and graduation rates for Hispanic engineering students and  increase the number of female Hispanic engineering majors and graduate students. The grant period is from October 2013 to December 2016.

“The School of Engineering and Computational Sciences is excited about this new grant as it will foster the opportunities for students in our region to complete an engineering degree,” said Dr. Juan R. Iglesias, the school’s Chair and a Professor of Computer and Information Sciences. “The activities supported by the grant are expected to reduce the existing gap in the number of minorities graduating with an engineering degree. This grant represents a unique opportunity for all the students we serve and it is particularly important for our female students.”

Specifically, the grant will support up to 15 students as engineering tutors/mentors or high school engineering coordinators. The students will be hired in the next few weeks.

“I believe our selected junior and senior engineering students, most of which graduated from local high schools, can definitely serve as the engineering coordinators between the UTB Engineering Physics Program and the high school students in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Dr. Yong Zhou, an Assistant Professor of Engineering and the grant’s Principal Investigator. “They will serve twofold roles: Introduce UTB engineering and education to the high school students and collect and report the inquiry back to us.”

Pablo Obregon, 24, a senior engineering physics – mechanical major from Matamoros, Mexico, said high school students should think about their courses if they are interested in engineering.

“Science comes with the program,” said Obregon. “The instructors will teach you science depending on what you want to study. But, everything is built on mathematics.”

Students can major in engineering physics and pursue concentrations in bioengineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.

“The grant will (also) support the revision to the freshman year courses in the current engineering program to allow engineering students to be involved in engineering design and research projects earlier,” said Zhou.

For more information about engineering, contact Academic Department Liaison Olga Melendez at 956-882-6639 or olga.melendez@utb.edu or Student Affairs Coodinator Itzitzy Gondinez at 956-882-7171 or engineering.advising@utb.edu.

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