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Nat’l Science Foundation grants $100K to UPR-Mayagüez PEARLS project

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has granted $100,000 to the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez, for its “Recruiting, Retaining, and Engaging Academically Talented Students from Economically Disadvantaged Groups into a Pathway to Successful Engineering Career,” known as Engineering PEARLS.

The funding will enable the project, now in its second year, to expand its scholarship base and research efforts on how to boost the success of talented low-income students pursuing their undergraduate studies at the School of Engineering.

The project, which launched in 2018 with a $1 million grant from the NSF, has since benefited some 90 students from various engineering disciplines. Its main mission is to “increase retention and maximize the academic career of talented young people from disadvantaged socioeconomic groups in Puerto Rico,” school officials said.

“This grant responds to our team’s approach to the NSF, to try to reach students we know who were impacted by the seismic events that occurred on the island at the beginning of the year and who are now again affected by the effects of the pandemic,” said Manuel A. Jiménez-Cedeño, chief proposal researcher and professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

“We want to reach out to these college kids who are striving for academic achievement, help them mitigate the effect that the emotional and economic burden that may derive from all these situations may have, and support them in reaching their goal of graduating from our campus on time,” Jiménez-Cedeño said.

Over a five-year period, the project will fund 176 scholarships for students who are pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. Scholarships will address college access and economic hardships of target students.

“The project includes a research plan to investigate the effectiveness of an institutional intervention model seeking to increase the retention and academic success of talented engineering students coming from economically disadvantaged families,” the NSF said.

“By leveraging scholarship support and established college-wide programs, the project aims to create an environment that fosters degree attainment by low-income students, in a model that can be used by to other institutions,” the institution added.

“Our project is about to complete its second year. During this time, it has cultivated the success of its participants in its different dimensions,” Jiménez-Cedeño said.

“Students have grown emotionally and professionally, through the various activities and opportunities provided by the program, and we’ve seen the impact it has had on their performance,” he added.

“We have a high proportion of students who, in their second or third year of study, have research experiences inside and outside the university, work experiences, and participation in leadership activities,” said Jiménez Cedeño.

He noted that more than 85% of PEARLS members are on track to graduate on time in their respective study programs.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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