The University of Texas at El Paso received a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide financial support and professional development experiences to talented students in the field of computer science.
As part of NSF’s Scholarships for STEM (S-STEM) program, the initiative will provide partial scholarships to 26 students at UTEP who are working on their bachelor’s degrees and focusing on data science or cybersecurity.
The UTEP Computer Science Department also will collaborate with El Paso Community College (EPCC) to fund scholarships for 15 students who start at EPCC and transfer to UTEP to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
“This S-STEM program builds on years of NSF support in the Paso del Norte region,” said Kenith Meissner, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. “Moreover, the coordinated effort between UTEP and EPCC will help broaden the talent pool needed to address critical national needs in data science and cybersecurity. We are excited to be part of this collaboration that expands opportunity for highly motivated students in high-demand STEM areas.”
The grant was first awarded to UTEP in 2016. Salamah Salamah, Ph.D., chair of the computer science department and the project’s principal investigator, said that it’s unusual for the S-STEM grant to be awarded to the same institution twice.
“The stature of UTEP and what we’re doing here in this department is something that can’t be ignored,” he said. “NSF understands the great things we’re doing.”
Of the 41 students who received scholarships under the first S-STEM grant, nearly all graduated with a bachelor’s degree, 40 attended conferences, 15 were involved in research and 15 pursued a graduate degree. Additionally, more than half of the program participants were women.
“The S-STEM program has provided the ideal bridge for students from EPCC who want to pursue their computing degree at UTEP,” said Christian Servin, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science at EPCC. “This partnership prepares students mentally and financially to succeed at the four-year institution once they transfer, speeding up the process of developing marketable skills, including research and computational thinking skills.”
Influenced by the best practices pioneered by the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI), UTEP’s computer science department provides S-STEM scholars with professional development training and opportunities that can build their confidence and give them an edge in the job market. For example, professors accompany students to the annual Great Minds in STEM conference, where students learn how to network with job recruiters, share their stories and highlight their skills.
“One of the greatest things you can see is how the students start to become leaders,” said Diego Aguirre, Ph.D., co-principal investigator of the grant and assistant professor of computer science. “Many of them come into the program with a desire to help others. As they learn skills and start to move in this space, they start sharing that newfound knowledge with other people. The impact of the program is not just in the students who get the scholarships, it’s in the impact those students have wherever they go.”