NSF Grant Funds UT, Community College Engineers

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee has formed a partnership with local community colleges to train more engineering students in East Tennessee.

The Engage 1st program teams UT with Northeast State Technical College in Blountville; Pellissippi

State Technical Community College in Knoxville; Roane State Community College in Harriman; and Walters State Community College in Morristown.

UT Provost Loren Crabtree said Engage 1st would increase the opportunities for incoming freshman to study engineering at UT and provide an intervention program to support their success.

“This program will bring into higher education first-generation students who may not otherwise have had access to a college education, particularly one in a technical field like engineering,” Crabtree said.

“It strengthens the partnership between UT and East Tennessee’s community colleges. These ties will lead to more educational opportunities for the citizens of this state and provide a stronger voice for all of post-secondary education.”

Engage 1st is funded by a $375,000 National Science Foundation grant to UT’s Jerry E. Stoneking Engage Engineering Fundamentals Program, a unique, team-based teaching approach established in 1997 and named for the late former dean.

“This new NSF grant allows us to partner with four regional community colleges to increase the number of engineering students from under-represented populations and support the success of these students during the educational process,” Dr. Fred Tompkins, UT interim dean of engineering, said.

“These new engineering graduates will help meet the our growing need for trained technical personnel, and will also be an asset in attracting future business and industry to the state.”

Engage 1st will recruit high school juniors and steer them toward pre-engineering coursework. After high school, students take a year of community college coursework and intern with selected companies for the summer.

In the second year, students enter UT where they will study in groups of 20 and live together in UT housing under the Engage program.

Dr. Elaine Seat, engineering associate professor who coordinates Engage 1st, said 16 of the 76 public high schools in the 22 counties surrounding UT have not had a student enter engineering as a freshman at UT since 1994.

Eighteen schools had a few students attempt to study engineering, but none of the students completed it, Seat said.

“The goal of the Engage 1st program is to combine the community colleges’ expertise in the instruction of fundamental skills with the innovation of our Engage freshman engineering program,” Seat said.

“Ultimately, the long-term goal is to increase the number of first-generation engineers in the East Tennessee region.”