UF freshmen get a STEPUP


Published: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 31, 2005 at 10:50 p.m.
For many incoming freshmen, college is a new, exciting and sometimes intimidating experience. After 18 years of Mom making sure you've been fed, your room is semi-clean, and you got enough rest, you are thrust into a world without her.
But thanks to Dr. Jonathan Earle, associate dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Florida, 37 incoming freshmen engineering majors will have a chance at a smoother transition.
Earle designed a program called Successful Transition through Enhanced Preparation for Undergraduate Programs, shortened to STEPUP, to give minority students and women a step in the right direction for their first year in college. This is the program's 11th year. The summer residential program ends Friday with an afternoon luncheon.
Since June 27, the STEPUP students' days have been planned out from a 7:15 a.m. breakfast check-in until study hall is over at 9 p.m.
Although the schedule is strict, most of the students said they don't mind it. "It really does prepare you for college," said STEPUP student Diahnne Wilson.
Eighteen-year-old Guillermo Hidalgo said he is the first person in his family to go to college, so he doesn't mind the strict routine. But, after about four weeks into the program, he has a little advice to offer fellow incoming freshmen - "Stay away from fast food."
Guillermo and a few of the other STEPUP students learned how quickly the "freshmen 15" will pack on, and had to draw up a proposal for their technical writing class to help other freshmen avoid gaining that extra weight.
Now, he said, he and two or three other STEPUP students get together and cook, instead of eating out.
The students have realized that unlike high school, studying engineering in college requires a network of support.
During the weekdays, students participate in team-building activities, such as building bridges out of Popsicle sticks. The team with the winning project, each time, gets privileges such as skipping the 7:15 a.m. check-in for breakfast one week.
To get an idea of practical uses of the chemistry and math classes they are taking this summer, the students took field trips to places like NASA, Disney World and the Anheuser Busch Co. in Jacksonville.
Hidalgo said these field trips helped him to decide to do mechanical and aerospace engineering rather than chemical engineering.
STEPUP students will continue to meet with their mentors periodically throughout their entire first year at UF to ensure they are on the right track.
"I feel like I'll be ahead of everyone else," said Tito Alverio, another engineering student who spent the summer getting a step in the right direction.

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