By Jessica Chapula
For the Daily Titan
The Cal State Fullerton College of Engineering and Computer Science was awarded a $50,000 grant from the non-profit organization Excelencia in Education to help support the Engineering and Computer Science Scholars Program at CSUF in late September.
CSUF was among 20 schools in the nation to receive the grant.
The grant is called SEMILLAS, which is the acronym for Seeding Educational Models that Impact and Leverage Latino Academic Success. “Semillas” is also the Spanish word for seeds.
The SEMILLAS grant is supported by the Wal-Mart Foundation and is part of the Excelencia in Education’s “Growing What Works” initiative.
The “Growing What Works” initiative aims to increase Latino student success, by recognizing educational programs that have proven to increase Latino success at two-year and four-year colleges.
By recognizing these programs, it gives the chance for other institutions to replicate or start their own program to encourage Latino academic success.
The grant will help with funding to keep the ECS Scholars Program running for another year, said Sergio Guerra, director for the Center of Academic Support in Engineering and Computer Science.
“The grant couldn’t have come in a better time, it gives us the much needed resources to continue the program in these hard economic times,” said Raman Unnikrishnan, dean of of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Unnikrishnan added that he is ecstatic to receive the award, “because we are being recognized in a competitive environment and it puts CSUF on the map. And itâ€™s always rewarding to see something you are involved in be recognized. And second because it gives other universities a chance to emulate what we are doing.”
The ECS Scholars program was launched on the fall of 2006 to focus on first year students in the engineering and computer science department and to keep the departmentâ€™s attrition rates low.
“Since many students change majors after their first year in the college of Engineering and Computer Science, we created this learning community to keep the students in the program. We provide them counseling, peer mentoring, and support from each other and from faculty and staff. We have found that it really helps them,” said Unnikrishnan.
“At first the program was started for Hispanic students, to recruit them for the college of Engineering and Computer Science and to help them stay in the program,” said Guerra.
“After the success we had, we got the office of freshman programs and the University Learning Center involved. And it helped us provide services for the students,” he said.
The services for the program include tutoring, a study center, academic advising, exposure to internships and a chance for students to network.
Students are placed in a block schedule to help them develop friendships and connections with peers and faculty members in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
The ECS Scholars program has turned out to be successful, said Christian Cruz, a civil engineering major. “I knew the program will be hard, but I didn’t anticipate it was going to be this hard. But joining the ECS Scholars program helped me keep in contact with other students. And we help each other out with homework,” Cruz said.
He added that he found it useful when they had guest speakers from different departments on campus, “because it helped us to get familiar with the resources we have on campus.”
Angel Noe Castrejon, a computer science major, also found the program helpful.
“I am the first generation in my family to attend college, and I heard the college of engineering and computer science had a very high attrition rate. And I thought I’m never going to graduate from this program. But after attending new student orientation, I learned about the ECS Scholars and I signed up immediately.”
Castrejon recommended the program to other students because he said it has helped him meet new people. “I would recommend it to other students because people in the computer science and engineering programs tend to be anti-social sometimes and have no one to go to. It makes it easier to transition to college,” he said.