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UTEP Shines at Texas Star Awards

Engineering Building
Photo courtesy of UTEP
Engineering Building
As a female and a minority in a field dominated by men, electrical engineering major Karla Enriquez knew she would need some support to help her accomplish her goals in school and life.

“There is some extra pressure as a woman to do well in this field,” Enriquez said. “Although we’re underrepresented in engineering, we are more than capable to do all work required to succeed.”

The UTEP junior found support and success in a special program that has won a highly coveted Star Award, presented by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The Model Institutions for Excellence program at the University of Texas at El Paso was recognized for increasing the number of minority students graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’ve increased the number of baccalaureates by 50 percent over the last seven years,” said UTEP Professor Benjamin Flores, director of the MIE program.

The initiative, which consists of three programs and two centers, has improved participating students’ overall grade point averages from 2.06 to 2.88. It also has reduced the average graduation time from 6.6 years to 5.1 years.

Flores says it’s done with “circles and aces”: CircLES is a special program that helps freshmen sharpen their study skills in teams and prepare for tough college courses. ACES is a center that provides computers, tutoring and advising for engineering and science students. In addition to CircLES and ACES, students find support through MIE programs such as Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), and Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE).

With the help of REU, Enriquez said landed a job as a research assistant, which helped with college finances. Because of REU, she also attended several engineering conferences and gained a mentor, engineering professor Eric MacDonald, Ph.D.

“The experience you gain from the programs complement what I’m doing in class,” said Enriquez, who is also a member of WiSE. “I’m much more interested in continuing my training and education in engineering because of the exposure I’ve had through MIE.”

Senior physics major Alan Davila, who participates in REU and has tutored at ACES, said the MIE experience has helped steer his career path toward nuclear research or high energy physics.

“Without MIE, I wouldn’t have had all of the experiences I’ve had that have strengthened my time at the university,” Davila said. “It’s an excellent program. It encourages diversity and you always want to have diversity in any field because different people with different backgrounds can come up with new ideas to solve problems.”

Flores said the Star Award is “a tremendous professional accomplishment” that comes on the heels of other notable recognition for UTEP. In September, UTEP was named the top engineering school for Hispanics by Hispanic Business magazine. The magazine cited the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), which calls UTEP “a model for other engineering institutions,” where today’s young people succeed in a rigorous math and science studies.

This is UTEP’s third Star Award – its Entering Students Program and Law School Preparation Institute have also been honored.

The Star Award was established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to recognize exemplary contributions toward closing the educational gaps that challenge the state. This year, six higher education programs across the state were named award recipients during an Oct. 10 ceremony held in conjunction with the Coordinating Board’s Governing Board Conference in Austin.

– Laura Cruz

Horizons Online News. Citing Internet Resources. [Online], Oct 26, 2005.