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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

December 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

How Colorado pioneered its engineering redshirt program

Today at noon, we’ll be doing a Google+ hangout to talk more about the Washington State Academic Red Shirt program, or STARS, which is helping to boost the number of women and minority students studying engineering at the University of Washington and Washington State University.  A story about the program appeared in Monday’s Seattle Times.

The program was modeled after a similar program at the University of Colorado-Boulder, which is in its fifth year. The director of that program, Tanya Ennis, will be joining us.

CU-Boulder calls its program the GoldShirt program, not only because gold is one of the school’s colors, but also because “we look at the students as a treasure,” Ennis said. (The idea is the same, though — give selected students from low-income schools an extra year of preparation to help them succeed in engineering.)

A few things are different about the Colorado program: Students are required to stay in on-campus housing for two years (the UW requires one year). The program has also been putting more money into scholarships so that students don’t have to work during the school year. In effect, CU-Bolder asks them: “How much money would it take for you not to work?” Ennis said.

In many other respects, though, the two programs are very similar. Ennis describes the program, which mostly serves students who are the first in their families to go to college, as “trying to advise students on life.” They learn the importance of deadlines, good study habits (“you need to be studying double-digit hours to be preparing for exams”) and getting to know professors personally by visiting them during office hours, Ennis said.

She  coaches students about talking to a professor about a bad grade on an exam — many professors will allow a student to retake an exam, but only if the student brings it up, she said. She encourages them to be more assertive in the financial aid office to make sure they’re getting all the aid they need. And she helps them apply for internships — even going so far as to show them exactly what they should wear to an in interview.

Here’s a video CU-Boulder put together about their program:

Comments | More in News | Topics: higher education, STEM

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