Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Engineering program helps first-year students succeed at UTSA

Engineering program helps first-year students succeed at UTSA


SEPTEMBER 20, 2022 — A program dedicated to the success of first-year UTSA engineering students is making a difference in the lives of 24 Roadrunners this year.

The Engineering Freshman Interest Group (FIG), a program in the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design, serves as a support system and foundation for engineering students just starting out at UTSA through built-in-study groups, faculty mentoring and by bringing students with common interests together.

“We started the Engineering FIG in 2018 after research on FIG programs at other universities showed that 94% of FIG students re-enrolled for their second year, 3% higher than non-FIGs,” said Jill Ford, assistant dean for UTSA Student Success. “For example, six-year graduation rates increased by 6% for FIG students and 14% for underrepresented students at the University of Washington.”

“Through the program, I hope they experience a greater involvement in campus and college programs and gain a greater awareness of campus and college resources.”

Participants of FIGs report higher levels of faculty interaction, involvement on campus, appreciation of diversity and decreased risky behavior, Ford said.

Through the UTSA Engineering FIG, students are offered study groups and a peer advisor to help with self-efficacy. They are also connected with a faculty mentor at the start to serve as a resource and a guide. Students in the program are co-enrolled in classes together, including Calculus I, General Chemistry I and Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS).

The program serves as a networking opportunity for its students as they adjust during their first year at UTSA — something that Erin McNeil, a chemical engineering major, agrees does help in the long run.

“I joined the (Engineering) FIG because it looked like a great way to meet other engineering students and make friends, especially since I only knew one other person going to UTSA,” McNeil said. “So far, it's been great! I've made several friends and the study nights have been super helpful for Calculus. I've learned much more about the engineering program and about my field. “

McNeil adds, “I hope to gain more knowledge of the opportunities UTSA has for engineering students, gain new skills, and make friends. I'd highly suggest joining the FIG because it has helped me socialize and I've met some amazing people who have always been willing to help me when I ask questions.”

This year, Engineering FIG students are living in the Honors Residential College at Guadalupe Hall and enjoying the benefits of being members of the Honors College, including early registration.

While Honors College requirements do not apply to Engineering FIG students, their activities and programs are open to them.

Fourteen students from this year’s Engineering FIG cohort were a part of the new Engineering Summer Bridge Program piloted by the Klesse College.

“The program focused on math and chemistry review and ALEKS [Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces] mastery, STEM study skills and time management workshops, presentations from campus offices and resources, academic coaching, lab tours and an overarching project,” Ford said.

Overseen by the college’s Student Success Center, the Summer Bridge program’s goal is to give students from underrepresented backgrounds a solid start at UTSA by offering math preparation sessions and an introduction to campus resources before the semester begins to aid their transition to college and set them up for success in their engineering coursework. All of the program’s students are required to be a part of the Engineering FIG. This year’s sponsors were Zachry Construction Corp. and NACME (the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.)

“We would not have been able to run the program without their support. We covered all room, meal, and supply costs for the bridge students to live on campus for four weeks prior to the start of the semester,” Ford said.

Stephen Saenz ’26 mechanical engineering major with a business administration minor, is one of the students who had the opportunity to experience the benefits of the Summer Bridge program as well the Engineering FIG.

“So far it has been extremely fun. Genuinely, I hope to take away the connections made within the FIG,” said Saenz. “What I find very important about the FIG is we all share similar majors within the engineering department. So being able to know and have friends within my major and department is a huge takeaway.”

Saenz added that he encourages first-year engineering students to apply for the program when they come to UTSA.

“If any student ends up applying and attending next year, I say do it and be open to the students, professors, and other mentors you may be able to meet,” he said. “Networking is everything here at UTSA.”


Ford hopes students like Saenz and McNeil will benefit from the programs by experiencing a “strong academic performance in courses, developing strong friendships and a sense of belonging.”

“Through the program, I hope they experience a greater involvement in campus and college programs and gain a greater awareness of campus and college resources,” Ford said.

Valerie Bustamante Johnson

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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