URI’s College of Engineering receives grant to continue diversity recruitment program

Posted on
Charles Watson, assistant director for diversity in the University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering, and Frances N. Vazques, of Providence, an engineering student at URI. Photo courtesy of Charles Watson.

KINGSTON, R.I., Oct. 19, 2016—A program to recruit minority students to the University of Rhode Island’s College of Engineering will continue to thrive, thanks to the renewal of a federal grant.

The National Science Foundation awarded $320,000 to URI to fund the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a program aimed at increasing the recruitment and graduation rate of underrepresented students in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

URI was one of six colleges in New England to receive the grant, which totaled $3.5 million. The other colleges receiving funds are the University of Connecticut; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Northeastern University; Worcester Polytechnic Institute; and Tufts University.

The URI program is highly successful, providing mentoring and financial assistance to 568 students in 2015. The program started in 2002 with only 167 students. Students participate in national and academic conferences, internships and graduate seminars.

“We are helping our underrepresented students believe that they can succeed in the STEM fields,” says Charles Watson, assistant director for diversity in the College of Engineering. “The Louis Stokes program is important because it allows our students to come together and provides resources and mechanisms for mutual support, giving them a chance to be highly successful.’’

Among the groups underrepresented in the STEM fields are African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Native Pacific Islanders.

“Without the support from the URI program I wouldn’t have been able to network, attend conferences and study abroad,” says Frances N. Vazques, of Providence, a senior studying engineering. “It is a unique program like this that exposes us to role models and opportunities we never would have dreamed of before.’’

This November, voters in Rhode Island will be asked to approve Question 4 on the ballot. If passed, the investment will pave the way to attract businesses and create the high-paying, high-skilled jobs Rhode Island needs by authorizing $45.5 million in bonds to expand URI’s highly successful College of Engineering ($25.5 million) and create a URI-affiliated innovation campus program ($20 million) that will pair cutting edge research with private sector investments to create the jobs of the future.