Virginia Tech is leading a collaborative program with two major state community colleges to promote engineering transfer student success, thanks to a nearly $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The program, known as the Virginia Tech Network for Engineering Transfer Students (VT-NETS), will support scholarships through 2022 for low-income students in community colleges prior to and following transfer to Virginia Tech to pursue a career in the engineering field. The total number of scholarships awarded across all three institutions is 336 over five years.

“Promoting access and completion in STEM fields, particularly for low-income and first-generation students, will prove increasingly important in our ever-changing economy,” said Virginia senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. “We’re pleased that these funds will give low-income Virginia students a shot at an engineering degree, prepare them to join a competitive workforce, and help guarantee a pipeline of trained workers that will build our nation’s future infrastructure.”

VT-NETS constitutes a partnership between Virginia Tech, Virginia Western Community College, and Northern Virginia Community College. Starting from their first day at either community college, the prospective transfer students will regularly be invited to Virginia Tech’s campus and will participate in distance-learning seminars and classes focused on topics like research and professional development. These prospective transfer students will also participate in the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program, a high-impact, experiential learning opportunity that focuses on global engineering.

“The students are starting at the two community colleges, but from the very beginning, Virginia Tech is a presence the entire time they are working on their associate degree,” said Bevlee Watford, associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering and the principal investigator of the NSF grant. “The constant interaction and trips to Virginia Tech allow students to build relationships with faculty and students here, to ease and accelerate the process of transferring.”

David Knight and Walter Lee, both assistant professors in the Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education.

David Knight and Walter Lee
David Knight (left) and Walter Lee, both assistant professors in the Virginia Tech College of Engineering Department of Engineering Education, are co-principal investigators of the VT-NETS program.

Co-principal investigators David Knight and Walter Lee, both assistant professors in the Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education, will lead research efforts to advance understanding of how various factors affect the success, retention, transfer, and graduation in engineering for low-income students, and coordinate research opportunities for incoming students. Watford and the academic affairs team will coordinate trips to campus and career and professional development opportunities.

Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) and Northern Virginia Community College will assist these efforts while also taking the lead on helping students find faculty mentors.

“Our three institutions are truly excited and honored to work together to provide a well-rounded and comprehensive experience for additional engineering students,” said Richard Clark, program head of engineering at VWCC. “We hope that this unique approach will help remove some of the barriers for students from low-income backgrounds whose desire is to complete an engineering degree at Virginia Tech.  Plus, this effort provides them with some very innovative opportunities along the way.”

VT-NETS will design and test curricular and co-curricular activities that support the transfer of students to four-year universities. This model and the data collected from it can inform other potential collaborations between two- and four-year colleges nationwide.

“We are confident that our three institutions will collectively benefit from this partnership, and we hope to inspire others to do the same,” said Chad Knights, dean of the mathematics, science, and engineering division at NOVA-Alexandria. "Continuing to build and strengthen effective community-college-to-bachelor's-degree pathways in STEM fields is crucial to meeting the workforce demands of the 21st century. We at NOVA are extremely proud to be partnering with VWCC and Virginia Tech on this key initiative here in the commonwealth.”

Written by Erica Corder

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