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Tech Lands $3.2 Million Grant For Undergrad Program

SOCORRO, N.M. October 14, 2010 – The U.S. Department of Education recently approved New Mexico Tech’s request for a second multi-million grant for educational development and new technology.

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Dr. Dave Westpfahl teaches a class using one of Tech's 'smart classrooms' in the Distance Ed studio. Tech will be investing in nearly a dozen similar facilities using two Title V grants over the next five years.

The federal agency announced October 1 that Tech is one of a select few universities to receive a Title V Undergraduate grant. Tech will receive $3.2 million over five years, in addition to a $2.8 million Title V grant for the Center for Graduate Studies, which was awarded in 2009.

“We would never be able to get these resources from any other source,” said Dr. Peter Gerity, vice president of academic affairs. “These funds provide direct support of our major efforts in retention and improved technology.”

The existing grant for the Center for Graduate Studies, under the supervision of Graduate Dean Dr. Dave Westpfahl, is funding several initiatives, including Smart Classrooms, graduate student lounges and customized services for graduate students. The new grant is very similar, but tailored for undergraduate students. Dr. Scott Zeman, associate vice president of academic affairs, said students will begin to see the impact over the coming years.

“These grants will have a tremendous impact impact, not only our Hispanic students, but on the entire institution,” said Zeman, who is also the principal investigator for the undergraduate grant. “The grants provide a huge leap forward by providing us with the vital resources to implement many of the retention and graduation initiatives that we have been wanting to do as an institution.

Chemistry professor Dr. Michael Pullin will serve as the project director of the undergraduate program. He said the goal of the latest Title V proposal is to increase retention and graduation rates and minimize failure of early-year “gateway” courses, such as chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

The program will also try to improve the involvement of freshman on campus.

“We’ve identified that students don’t feel connected to the university in the early years,” Pullin said. “Educational research shows that if they don’t feel connected, they’re more likely to leave.”

To achieve those goals, the grant will fund three main areas: new learning communities, new classroom technology and a faculty development center.

The learning communities will assemble a cohort of students who take two classes and a freshman seminar, all of which are based on a particular theme. Pullin said the proposal identified five possible themes:

  • Sustainability at New Mexico Tech
  • Science and Engineering of Automotive Design
  • Environment of the American Southwest
  • Computing and Information Technology for Society
  • Criminal Minds: Human Behavior and Forensic Science

Students in each learning communities will also be grouped together in a dormitory, where they’ll have access to a high-tech study area.  Students in these communities will also be provided with peer tutors and learning coaches through the Center for Student Success.

“We’ve designed it to provide interesting and compelling themes and we’re targeting the high failure rate courses,” said Elaine DeBrine Howell, Associate Dean of the Center for Student Success. “By linking three courses together with similar learning objectives, it provides the teaching faculty to incorporate innovative teaching strategies into the curriculum as well as allows for early intervention.”

The grant will fund 10 new Smart Classrooms across campus, which will be used for all undergraduate classes. The initial Title V grant is funding similar technology for the graduate program.

SmartBoards combine the functionality of a traditional chalkboard with projectors and multi-media capabilities. The technology also saves each page of the instructor’s written notes to digital files, which then can be made available to students. Dean Westpfahl has used the Smart ClassRoom technology for classes.

“The technology is exceptional,” he said. “The instructor just has to learn how to master the technology.”

Tech qualifies for Title V grants because the university recently achieved status as an Hispanic-Serving Institution, which is a designation for universities with at least 25 percent Hispanic students.

“That’s the trigger,” Gerity said. “Our HSI status enabled us to compete for these grants. Our recruiting efforts paid off and, thankfully, we achieved this status. Of course, these Title V grants help all Tech students.”

Zeman said the two Title V grants – and potential future grants – support the university’s mission to keep students in school and help them succeed. Tech is strategically soliciting grants that reinforce one another. Tech is applying for a $4.3 million federal grant to create a new summer math program.

“This is another example of how we are using grants to create a holistic approach to addressing the needs of our students,” he said.

Zeman also said that the grants come at an opportune time, considering the hiring freeze and the dwindling state budget for academics and instruction. The grants are creating jobs and new opportunities on our campus, he said.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech