NSF grant provides scholarships for UC Santa Cruz engineering students

A new scholarship program will provide financial and academic support for students in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz, thanks to a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The aim of the program is to increase the numbers of financially disadvantaged students, particularly women, who earn undergraduate degrees in computer science, computer engineering, and electrical engineering at UCSC. The program will provide need-based scholarship awards of up to $10,000 per year for two years to a cohort of eight to ten academically talented students each year.

The first scholarships will be awarded to students entering in fall 2009. In addition to financial support, the students will participate in an academic learning community, taking courses together and living together in a residence hall, said Adrienne Harrell, director of undergraduate student affairs at the Baskin School of Engineering.

"I'm very excited about this scholarship program because it's going to provide more than just financial support. The scholarship recipients will be part of a community of peers and faculty that will help them be successful here," Harrell said.

Charlie McDowell, professor of computer science and associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the Baskin School of Engineering, conceived of the program and developed the proposal with several colleagues, including Tracy Larrabee and Joel Ferguson, both professors of computer engineering, and Joel Kubby, associate professor of electrical engineering. Ferguson is provost of Crown College, where the scholarship students will live.

One of the motivations for the program was to address the underrepresentation of women in the engineering school, McDowell said.

"We're hoping to use the program to attract more women and more underrepresented students in general," he said. "The scholarships create an opportunity to come to UCSC for students who might otherwise go someplace more affordable."

The underrepresentation of women in engineering and computer science is a national issue, and UCSC is not alone in trying to address the problem. "It's not just a balance issue," McDowell said. "We are potentially missing out on some female superstars that never find their way into computing, and we need that talent as well as the different perspectives women can bring to the field."

Need-based scholarships are one tool that can help the engineering school attract more women, he said. "We want to build a critical mass of women in computer science that we can use to attract even more women into the field."

Note to reporters: You may contact Harrell at (831) 459-5621 or adrienne@soe.ucsc.edu and McDowell at (831) 459-4772 or charlie@cs.ucsc.edu.