Program to Aid Underrepresented Student Groups

STARRS Initiative to Encourage Success in Engineering and Computer Science

March 13, 2009

A new program for students in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science aims to help underrepresented students navigate and succeed in traditionally challenging engineering and computer science courses at the University.

Called STARRS (Supporting the Transition to Achieve Recruiting and Retention Success), the program seeks to increase the enrollment and retention of underrepresented engineering and computer science graduates in the Jonsson School.

According to Dr. Simeon Ntafos, director of student services and associate dean for undergraduate education in the school — and one of the principal investigators on the initiative — the program has three main components:

  • Scholarships — Awards averaging $1,000 per semester will be offered, mostly to new students but also to some existing freshmen. 
  • Mentoring — To enhance success rates, students will have mentors from student organizations and industry groups.
  • A head start summer program — Scholarship recipients for the fall will be invited, and in some cases required, to participate in a summer program in which they will complete six to seven hours of coursework that applies toward their degree requirements or prerequisite classes. 

The STARRS scholarship will be available to as many as 40 students a semester.  It will be awarded based on academic excellence, enrollment in the Jonsson School, diversity and need.  

“Our goal is to focus on the critical first year transition from high school or community college,” Ntafos said.  “By combining a scholarship program for underrepresented populations with mentoring and head start programs, we believe we can better retain — and ultimately graduate — recipients of the STARRS award.”

The head start component of the STARRS program is modeled after UT Dallas’ highly successful Academic Bridge Program, which gives students the opportunity to begin their university education immediately after high school graduation. 

Other principal investigators on the initiative include Dr. George Fair, dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and founder of the Bridge program; and Dr. Magaly Spector, vice president of the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement.

“The Strategic Plan of the University charges us with establishing a culture that welcomes and celebrates diversity,” Spector pointed out.  “This is the first major external grant secured by the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement in our quest to attract underrepresented students.  It’s extremely important work for our campus and our state, and I’m pleased that we’re beginning to show success in securing resources for programs of this nature.”

For STARRS, Spector and her office will work closely with local workforce development boards and local industry to enhance recruiting and retention of underrepresented students.

Fair will continue to work closely with the Jonsson School in enhancing the School’s diversity goals, both through the Bridge program and various Jonsson summer programs.

Another aspect of STARRS includes collaboration with two community colleges — Collin College and Richland College — that are in the vicinity of UT Dallas and that provide the bulk of transfer students into Jonsson School programs.  Students from those schools also will be considered for admission into the STARRS program.   

STARRS is funded through August 2010 by a $242,000 grant from the Texas Workforce Commission through its Texas Youth in Technology Grant Program.


Media Contact:  Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, jennib@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Simeon Ntafos

“Our goal is to focus on the critical first year transition from high school or community college,” Dr. Simeon Ntafos said of the STARRS project.

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