Engineering success

CH2M Hill waste water engineer Jason Mau, at right, breaks the ice with the book titled, "Everyone Poops," while speaking with a tour group of University of Florida freshmen engineers outside his office Friday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 31, 2006 at 11:52 p.m.
To 47 incoming freshmen at the University of Florida, the six weeks of July and early August is not a time for heading out to the beach or hanging around the mall - these young men and woman are getting a head start on their careers in engineering.
Participants in the 13th-annual STEPUP - Successful Transition Through Enhanced Preparation for Undergraduate Programs - have been studying, taking exams and visiting potential employers.
Called an "academic boot camp" by Stephen Roberts, assistant director in the Division of Student Affairs at UF's College of Engineering, the six-week residential program immerses the minority students in every aspect of different engineering disciplines, including environmental, civil and mechanical.
Students live in Beaty Towers and have a tightly structured weekday schedule from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Their days are filled with study halls, tutoring, group meetings and social events.
Every Friday they load up on a bus and visit industry leaders, including CH2M Hill in Gainesville, Regeneration Technologies in Alachua and Lockheed Martin, Anheuser Busch and the Kennedy Space Center in other parts of the state.
"These kids have maybe 2 hours of free time a day," Roberts said.
The students are taking eight classes - most UF students only take three or four per semester, Roberts said - including chemistry, calculus, problem-solving, technical writing and computers. Only one class, introduction to engineering, leads to a single academic credit.
Cost per student is about $2,500 for the program, but each family is only asked to contribute $600 toward those expenses. The remainder is paid for by the College of Engineering. Industries on the tour schedule often donate items such as backpacks or pay for the tour buses.
"By the time they finish STEPUP, they are prepared for the classes they will be taking in the fall, as well as having a corporate network portfolio and business cards from key contacts in their field. They are ahead of the game, above and beyond most students." Roberts said.
He said the program has seen a high success rate, with many of the STEPUP students attaining engineering jobs after graduation.
Mariana Diaz, 17, from Miami, said she and other students are able to get together and help each other out.
"It creates a strong connection between all of us," she said.
She said when the group visits engineering companies, "I always ask about the women-men ratio, and try to learn from those women engineers."
Jeremy Young, 18, from Charlotte, N.C., said, "It really prepares you for your undergrad career. I've enjoyed it immensely... It helps if you're coming from out of state and get partially immersed in college life, meeting with faculty and networking with them."
As for the long days, Young said, "Although it is involved, you do get a lot out of it."
Marina Blomberg can be reached at (352) 374-5025 or

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