Engineering Pathway program expands access for underrepresented students

Students+involved+in+the+Engineering+Pathways+Program+gather+on+the+patio+of+Engineering+Hall+on+Aug.+10%2C+2018.+This+year+150+students+were+offered+admission+to+the+program.
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Engineering Pathway program expands access for underrepresented students

Students involved in the Engineering Pathways Program gather on the patio of Engineering Hall on Aug. 10, 2018. This year 150 students were offered admission to the program.

Students involved in the Engineering Pathways Program gather on the patio of Engineering Hall on Aug. 10, 2018. This year 150 students were offered admission to the program.

Photo courtesy of Keri Niehans

Students involved in the Engineering Pathways Program gather on the patio of Engineering Hall on Aug. 10, 2018. This year 150 students were offered admission to the program.

Photo courtesy of Keri Niehans

Photo courtesy of Keri Niehans

Students involved in the Engineering Pathways Program gather on the patio of Engineering Hall on Aug. 10, 2018. This year 150 students were offered admission to the program.

By Eunice Alpasan, Staff Writer

As college decision day approached for Kimberly Bolaños, it grew clearer to her that community college was her most viable option. Her decision to attend Wilbur Wright College in Chicago coincided with her plan to apply for the Engineering Pathways program.

“The moment I found out about the Engineering Pathways, I just thought that was the most perfect option that could possibly be ever,” Bolaños said.

The Engineering Pathways is a two-year transfer program that, upon completion, guarantees admission to the Grainger College of Engineering for qualifying students from partnering community colleges.

Keri Niehans, coordinator for the Engineering Pathways Program at the Grainger College of Engineering, said the purpose of the program is to provide access for students who choose to take a non-traditional college path.

“People choose to start their route not through (the University) for a variety of reasons, often it’s financial,” Niehans said. “Students in the state of Illinois should have access to an affordable option.”

Ten community colleges offer the Engineering Pathways transfer program, including recently added Elgin Community College and Lewis and Clark Community College.

Niehans said these new partnerships help expand student access. Elgin Community College serves a large Hispanic community while the Lewis and Clark Community College partnership expands access to students in southwest Illinois.

A majority of the colleges offering the program are clustered around the Chicagoland area.

About 150 – 200 students apply for the program each year. This school year, about 150 students were offered admission to the program, according to Niehans. The Grainger College of Engineering is able to admit an uncapped number of qualified students.

The design of the program allows students to explore a variety of engineering courses that increase in rigor, so they can declare any major by the time they apply to the University during their fourth semester. The Pathways students also work closely with one another at their community college.

Bolaños is in her third semester of the program. She is interested in majoring in either computer engineering or engineering physics.

“All the Pathways know each other, and we’re able to support each other,” Bolaños said. “We’re all going to the same school, so having that sense of community with the other Pathways really helps a lot.”

While Bolaños said the coursework can be “tough,” she said she receives a lot of support from professors and tutors at Wilbur Wright.

“I think the biggest benefit is just how small the classes are and how ready each professor (is) to help you and guide you,” Bolaños said. “There’s definitely a lot of help and without it, I feel like I might have dropped out of the program.”

During the first two years of the program, Pathways students are unable to drop required courses, and they must earn a B or better in each required course and maintain a 3.5 overall GPA. According to Niehans, Pathways students who transfer into the University tend to have a higher GPA and also tend to graduate more quickly than other transfer students.

Bolaños said about half of her Pathways cohort at Wilbur Wright dropped out of the program, shrinking from about 20 students to about 10 students.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh it’s community college it’s going to be super easy,’ but actually no, it’s just as difficult,” Bolaños said. “Calculus is calculus, you’re still going to learn it no matter what.”

Bolaños said she is confident she will finish the program, but is unsure whether she will attend the University due to financial concerns.

The summer before Pathways students start school at the University, they attend new student programs. They are also offered admission to the James Scholar Honors Program. This year, 78% of the Pathways transferring class of 2019 received a merit scholarship, Niehans said. 

Jocelyn Collado-Kuri, senior in Engineering, transferred into the University from Wilbur Wright. She was also the founding member of the college’s chapter for Society of Women Engineers. 

Collado-Kuri said the program helped prepare her to enter the University by improving her soft skills and core engineering skills.  

Niehans said the Grainger College of Engineering broadly works to recruit underrepresented students including women, underrepresented minorities, first generation students, students from rural areas and students from Chicago Public Schools.

Bolaños is the only woman in her Pathways cohort. She also serves as the current president for Wilbur Wright’s chapter for Society of Women Engineers. She said she hopes she can use her position to get more women to apply to the program.

“If I didn’t have this opportunity, I don’t know what I would be doing right now,” Bolaños said.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the cohort at Wilbur Wright dropped from about 20 students to 10 students. The Daily Illini regrets this error.