Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New leadership champions new vision for UTSA Prefreshman Engineering Program

New leadership champions new vision for UTSA Prefreshman Engineering Program

The UTSA Prefreshman Engineering Program prepares middle and high school students for a future in STEM careers.

APRIL 18, 2022 — UTSA Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy today announced the appointment of Araceli Martinez Ortiz as director of the Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP), effective June 1. Ortiz is the Microsoft President’s Endowed Professor and a professor of engineering education in the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering.

Ortiz is a nationally recognized leader in engineering education, with more than 15 years researching teaching and learning approaches that best support engagement in the discipline. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with whom she has worked extensively.

As program director of the Engineering Education program, a joint initiative between the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design and the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD), Ortiz has work closely with current PREP director and associate professor Joel Alejandro (Alex) Mejia in mapping out a new vision for PREP in alignment with the university’s commitment to be a Hispanic Thriving University. Mejia will continue to support the program in an advisory role, leading the Faculty Advisory Council and assisting with curriculum development to meet modern standards and prepare future college students to succeed in their university studies and careers.

“[PREP sees] our faculty introduce K-12 students to key engineering concepts and inspire those students to pursue a career in the field.”

“Dr. Martinez Ortiz is an established leader in her work to extend STEM education access to underserved and underrepresented communities,” Espy said. “She has been instrumental in the development of the bold new vision for the UTSA Prefreshman Engineering Program, and we are thrilled that she will take the reins to see that exciting vision realized. Building on the strong PREP foundation that has served as a national model for more than 40 years, Dr. Martinez Ortiz will lead the way for PREP to expand the pathways encouraging and preparing young students to succeed in future STEM careers.”

Espy added that PREP is just one of the initiatives of the Engineering Education program, which also includes assistant professor Karina Vielma. The interdisciplinary team also has developed graduate certificates designed to prepare teachers to be more impactful engineering and STEM educators. Those certificates, and a forthcoming master’s degree program, closely support UTSA’s commitment as a Carnegie R1, Hispanic Serving Institution to create opportunity and career pathways for historically underrepresented students, and is hiring faculty to serve as student mentors and models to the community.

PREP is a summer enrichment program for middle and high school students that seeks to successfully prepare future college students, particularly minority and female students. The program provides students with the opportunity to study STEM subjects in a college setting and exposing them to careers through professional speakers and field trips. PREP will hold its 43rd summer program in 2022.

“UTSA has a long history of community programming that impacts San Antonio and the local area,” said JoAnn Browning, dean of the Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design. “For over four decades, PREP has been an integral part of our community engagement, seeing our faculty introduce K-12 students to key engineering concepts and inspire those students to pursue a career in the field.”

COEHD Dean Mario Torres added that the partnership between the two colleges has been an integral to the program’s success.

“PREP’s longevity in the San Antonio community is not only symbolic of its transformative impact but illustrates what is possible when scientists, mathematicians, educators and community leaders work hand in hand to make a difference in the lives of children,” Torres said.

PREP was founded in 1979 by Manuel P. Berriozábal, a life-long champion of mathematics education and of creating opportunities for student success. Berriozábal served as the program’s director from the time of inception through 2003. In 1997, Berriozábal received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Berriozábal retired from UTSA in 2016, and was awarded the rank of Professor Emeritus for his many years of sustained service to the university and for his impact both on his academic discipline of mathematics and on student success. He continues to remain involved with PREP.

“I am excited to continue the legacy of Dr. Berriozábal’s PREP initiative,” Martinez Ortiz said. “PREP is a remarkable program for exposing historically underrepresented students to the opportunities that exist in pursuing a future in engineering. As our region continues to see unprecedented growth, the need for highly qualified engineering professionals will only increase. It is my hope that PREP will play a significant part in developing a qualified and diverse professional community that more closely represents the demographics of San Antonio.”

More than 40 years after the first PREP summer program launched in San Antonio with 50 students, PREP has now been replicated at more than 125 school districts across Texas as well as school districts in California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Idaho. To date, PREP has received more than $40 million dollars in public and private funding and in-kind support. PREP has served more than 50,000 students in Texas alone, with over 65% of participants identifying as Hispanic and 53% as female. Notably, the high school graduation rate among PREP program participants is 99%; the college attendance or college graduation rate is 90%.

Learn more about UTSA’s PREP program.

More than 500 San Antonio schoolchildren are enrolled for PREP for this summer, a testament to the program’s reputation for success, as well as to COEHD’s ongoing work in supporting local school districts through programs such as the Academy for Teaching Excellence, which leverages institutional and community resources to better prepare teacher candidates and in-service teachers who work with diverse student populations.

“PREP has been hard at work to revise the curriculum to align with 21st century needs while maintaining its initial founding goals,” Mejia said. “UTSA’s Engineering Education faculty bring extensive research and professional experience to this process. I am excited to see the impact PREP will continue to have on inspiring students to strive for their goals and achieve their dreams.”

Rory Dew

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