UMass Dartmouth awarded $1.49M from the National Science Foundation to develop leadership skills and engineering identity in graduate students

The award led by Dr. Tracie Ferreira will provide $900,000 in scholarships to prepare graduate students to excel as skilled leaders in entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation in an effort to build the South Coast’s blue economy.

Professor Tracie Ferreira
Professor Tracie Ferreira teaching Bioengineering graduate students

Associate Professor and Department Chairperson of Bioengineering Dr. Tracie Ferriera is the recipient of a 1,498,020 National Science Foundation (NSF) award for her project titled “Scholarships to Accelerate Engineering Leadership and Identity in Graduate Students.”

The project addresses an urgent need to develop initiatives that support the graduation of diverse populations of students in STEM to fulfill workforce demands and prepare graduate students to advance research discoveries into practice. “Our students are invested in their community and have the skills to advance discoveries here on the South Coast,” Ferreira says. “The program leverages established accelerated BS/MS programs and research efforts in the college of engineering that support the maritime economy and will provide scholarships to 90 unique full-time students pursuing accelerated graduate BS/MS degrees in engineering. Students will receive one-year scholarships in the master’s year of study.”

“It is designed to provide a coordinated program for high-achieving, low-income undergraduate student recruitment, and workforce development strategies to prepare and graduate MS-level students to address challenges in biotechnology, marine renewable energy, added value recyclable products, marine artificial intelligence and robotics, cyber security, marine restoration, and water resources and protection.”  

The overall goal is to increase STEM degree completion of low-income, high-achieving graduate students with demonstrated financial need. The project also addresses the critical need to graduate leaders skilled in technology, entrepreneurship, and innovation to build and support the economy of the South Coast of New England. Additionally, it will provide scholarships to students to allow them to participate in activities that foster engineering identity development. 

“Research has shown that students who persist in engineering tend to exhibit high levels of self-efficacy and identify themselves as belonging to an engineering community,” says Ferreira. While there have been studies on the role of engineering identity on the transition from K-12 to post-secondary education, Ferreira explains that few studies on either engineering identity or challenges related to self-efficacy have investigated the transition from undergraduate to graduate-level programs.

Furthermore, there have been few studies of the impact of institutional support during these transitional years on the recruitment and persistence of engineering graduate students, and the role of engineering identity and self-efficacy development in this process. “Overall, the project is expected to fill the gap in knowledge generation on the role of self-efficacy and engineering identity among undergraduate students who continue to pursue engineering through graduate degree attainment,” she says.

This project is funded by the NSF’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, which seeks to increase the number of low-income academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who earn degrees in STEM fields. It also aims to improve the education of future STEM workers and to generate knowledge about academic success, retention, transfer, graduation, and academic/career pathways of low-income students.

Ferreira’s collaborators are Dr. Jean VanderGheynst, Dean of the College of Engineering and Interim Dean of the School for Marine Science & Technology; Dr. Raymond Laoulache, Associate Dean and Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Shakhnoza Kayumova, Associate Professor of STEM Education & Teacher Development; and Dr. Hamed Samandari, Full-Time Lecturer of Mechanical Engineering. Findings will be presented to the STEM education and engineering communities.


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