Taylor Jaseph | The Poly Post

Bridging the gap in civil engineering

By Taylor Jaseph, Nov. 01, 2022

Cal Poly Pomona’s civil engineering department was awarded nearly $2.5 million from the National Science Foundation to fund two projects aimed to provide more opportunities and increase graduation rates for students.

The project “Bridging Institutions to Decrease Gaps in Engineering Education” will focus on increasing the graduation rate for CPP’s engineering transfer students. With nearly $1 million, BRIDGE seeks to ease the transition from transfer students’ previous institutions to CPP as well as help the students graduate in two years.

Graduation Initiative 2025 was launched in 2015 by the California State University system to increase graduation rates while also closing the equity gaps and better preparing students for the workforce. Transfer students make up just over a third of the civil and mechanical engineering departments, yet only 6% graduate in two years.

“I talked with some of my colleagues, ‘Wait, we are working on GI 2025, but College of Engineering looks like a very big problem. How can we address this?’” said Woo. “It was a starting point in the conversation.”

This project is led by civil engineering Assistant Professor Jeyoung Woo. Woo’s team consists of civil engineering Associate Professor Jinsung Cho, chemical and materials engineering Professor Winny Dong, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs & Student Success M. Ron Yeung, early childhood studies Associate Professor Denise Kennedy and mechanical engineering Assistant Professor Brian Ramirez.

Courtesy of Jeyoung Woo

Woo and his team found that the engineering transfer students were not taking the lower-division engineering courses at their previous institutions — either the community college didn’t offer the engineering courses, or the students were prioritizing a higher GPA.

“Some (lower-division) courses have an almost 0% completion rate which means, once they transfer to Cal Poly Pomona, they cannot take upper-level courses until they complete all of these (lower-division) courses,” Woo said. “So, if they spent two years, three years, four years from their previous institution, they still need another three years, four years to get one piece of paper from the university.”

The engineering department is partnering with Mt. San Antonio College, Citrus College and Victor Valley College to create a “certificate” program to identify students who complete their lower-division courses at their previous institutions.

Knowing that taking the lower-division courses may lower a prospective CPP student’s GPA, with the certificates, the transfer students will have more leeway in admissions.

Kennedy’s department, early childhood studies, has an Associate Degree for Transfer. This is a program where students can earn a two-year degree, and then be guaranteed admission into participating California universities. The engineering department doesn’t have this, but BRIDGE looks to implement it.

“That would be the ultimate goal … to have an ADT in engineering statewide,” Kennedy said. “It’s just hard because you have to show demand at the community college.”

To implement lower-division courses into the community colleges, CPP professors will share their course curriculum. For the students to better adjust to CPP, a summer bridge program will allow transfer students to refresh their knowledge and use machines they might not have been able to use at community college

The second project, “Career Development in Construction Engineering through Academic and Industry Network,” aims to increase the number of graduates from the construction engineering and management department by helping the students focus on their future careers.

Woo is the lead on the CERTAIN project as well and his team consists of CEM Associate Professor Ghada Gad, civil engineering Department Chair and Professor Yasser Salem, Cho and Yeung.

Taylor Jaseph | The Poly Post

The construction industry is seeing a significant shortage of skilled workers and low representation for people of color and women. CERTAIN seeks to provide more opportunities for the underrepresented minorities in management and higher pay positions.

“I think we are in an era right now where people are more cognitive of this and there’s a lot of efforts to make sure there is proper representation,” Gad said.

CERTAIN received nearly $1.5 million, with $900,000 of the grant going towards scholarships for low-income students in the CEM department. Students will receive $5,000 each year they attend CPP and complete certain milestones.

“One thing we thought about as a team when we came up was, we don’t want it to be a one-year scholarship because … part of it is also you want to make sure you’re retaining them (students),” said Gad. “So, it’s not just recruiting.”

The CERTAIN project has two pathways that allows students to either get into the industry after graduation or earn their master’s degree at CPP. The industry pathway has prearranged summer internships to help students experience in the engineering field. For the academic pathway, students can participate in undergraduate research.

“I don’t really know if, as of now, we have sort of clear roles and responsibilities matrix, per se, but it’s more of like a collaborative team effort with the lead of Professor Woo,” said Gad.

Feature image by Taylor Jaseph

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