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With grant, NMSU, DACC partner on engineering pathway


The Two- to Four-Year Pathway for Successful Transfer And Retention (STAR) of engineering students is a relatively new partnership between New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College to serve a common objective of getting more engineering-bound students into NMSU classrooms and successful, high-paying careers.

The STAR program got a five-year grant of nearly $1.25 million from the National Science Foundation beginning April 1, 2020 – shortly after state public health orders forced NMSU to extend spring break by a week and begin online learning for most courses.

The pandemic kept the STAR program from reaching its original enrollment goal of 30, said NMSU Engineering Professor Muhammed Dawood, Ph.D., but principal investigators from DACC and NMSU were able to recruit an initial cohort of 15 students, including nine who received needs-based scholarships of up to $10,000.

“The connections we’re making for DACC students with faculty (at) NMSU and beyond, and the contacts NMSU has with industry that DACC may not have in engineering” are even more important benefits of the program, said DACC Dean of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Joe Butler, who also is the community college’s acting vice president for academic affairs.

A recent online cohort meeting was “really rewarding,” Dawood said, because it showed STAR students are “just so excited to be there.”

“I thought this program would be a good fit for me because I would love to further my education,” said STAR student Paige Martin, who is majoring in aerospace and mechanical engineering at DACC and wants to become an aeronautical engineer. “I believe this program will benefit me when applying for internships and job employment because I will have the best help getting one.”

Another STAR student, Kurt, plans to transfer from DACC to NMSU this fall and change his major from general engineering to electrical engineering. He heard about STAR from Program Coordinator Anja Hansen.

“I think this program will benefit me the most with internships while in school and job hunting when I graduate,” he said. “I am also looking forward to the mentorship they offer in this program, I think it will positively impact my time here at DACC and NMSU.”

Another STAR student is a chemical engineering major at NMSU who wants to become a professional chemical engineer and astronomer. STAR “is going to connect me with other students who are in the same field and we can grow together as professionals,” the student said. “I believe this program will benefit me when applying for internships and research programs during my career because it shows I am a student who can fit into diverse activities and getting my tasks done with responsibility.”

“It’s a treat to listen to someone say, ‘Oh gosh, this came along at exactly the right time,’” Dawood said. It’s really, really a great opportunity.”

STAR’s goal is to bring about 100 students into the program during a five-year period, he said. It is targeting students who spend at least one semester at DACC and could complete a four-year engineering program at NMSU with financial assistance and guidance.

STAR includes 26 faculty who provide mentorship to participating students, Dawood said. Third- and fourth-year engineering students also act as mentors. The NMSU College of Engineering provides participating students with internship opportunities to gain experience and knowledge in the industries in which they hope to become employed, including aerospace, chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical and other engineering fields, he said.

With a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a graduate could go on to earning $60,000 or more a year working locally or across the country for a national laboratory, a defense contractor, the military, a private company or another employer, Dawood said.

Students who transfer from DACC to engineering-related technology programs at NMSU and choose to go into the workforce “don’t have any difficulty getting positions,” Butler said. “Those are jobs in our community now.”

“We are very passionate to see our students succeed,” Dawood said. “The opportunities are huge.”

To continue instruction during COVID-19, Dawood said some instructors have “gone way beyond to create online labs” while face-to-face instruction isn’t possible.

Scholarship funds that STAR students receive can be used to pay for books, lodging, tuition and other expenses, Dawood said.

“We need to get people to benefit from these grants,” he said.

For more information, contact Hansen at 575-646-5234 or anjah@nmsu.edu, Dawood at 575-646-5498 or dawood@nmsu.edu, and Butler at jrbutler@nmsu.edu. Visit www.star.nmsu.edu to apply and for more information.