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TexPREP program immerses students in STEM education
     
Six dozen area middle school students spent over five weeks of their summer vacations getting a leg up on their peers academically at UT Arlington’s annual Texas Pre-Freshman Engineering Program (TexPREP). For the students, rigorous work in the classroom was balanced with fun but educational activities such as building and launching their own bottle rockets, and designing and constructing bridges out of toothpicks.

UT Arlington has hosted TexPREP each summer since 1997, with class sizes ranging from 12-20 students. The 2014 summer session marked the program’s expansion to three cohorts of students, now known as UT Arlington PREP. With financial and academic support from Arlington ISD, the 2014 summer session, held June 10-July 18, produced a graduating class of 72 students from the PREP I program.

“The TexPREP program is about exposing middle school students to mathematics and engineering and to open their minds to the possibilities that a career in a STEM field will bring,” said MInerva Cordero, College of Science associate dean for academic affairs and site director. “UT Arlington PREP was a great success and we are looking forward to continuing to grow the program in years to come. AISD is very pleased with the results of this year’s program and together we will plan for expanding PREP so many more AISD students can take advantage of this exciting program.”

PREP I courses include Logic, Introduction to Engineering, Problem-Solving I, Journal Presentation and Career Awareness.

“Next year we plan to offer PREP II courses which will include Physics, Problem-Solving II, and Algebraic Structures, as well as Journal Presentation and Career Awareness,” said Alice Lubbe, assistant site director. “By 2017, we hope to offer PREP I, II, III and IV, each of which is eligible for high school elective credit via TEA in participating Texas public schools.”

TexPREP is a mathematics-based, academic enrichment program. It emphasizes the development of abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills, and helps students prepare for careers in the fields of science, technology and engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The program includes course work, team projects, class presentations, examinations, career awareness speakers, field trips and special events. Students who want to participate in TexPREP must be entering seventh or eighth grades, must have at least a B average in math and overall, must be nominated by two of their teachers and must submit an essay on why they want to be involved in the program.

A closing ceremony for campers and family members was held on July 18 in University Hall. It featured remarks by Vistasp Karbhari, UT Arlington president; Pamela Jansma, College of Science dean; Jianzhong Su, Department of Mathematics chair; Evan Smith, AISD chief academic officer; and Lubbe. Those were followed by a presentation of certificates of completion to each student.
 
The program is committed to helping increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities involved in STEM education.

“Female, Hispanic and African-American student populations are typically underrepresented in STEM fields, both academically and professionally,” Lubbe said. “This summer, our 72 graduates were composed of 64 percent female students; 63 percent of students were Hispanic and 18 percent were African-American.”

Jianzhong Su, professor and chair of the math department, said the TexPREP program exemplifies the efforts of the College of Science and the University as a whole to attract more students to STEM fields - especially young women and minority groups - and to mentor those students once they are on campus.

“The expansion of the TexPREP program this summer has been a tremendous success, thanks to the hard work of Dr. Cordero, Ms. Lubbe, and their team of teachers, program assistants and math staff,” Su said. “It reflects UT Arlington's newest progress towards attaining excellence and broadening access. Students are very excited by the excellent academic programs and campus environment at UT Arlington, and will potentially become our students in a few years.

“We are very proud of all our TexPREP students, who worked diligently in the classroom and successfully completed the curriculum requirements. Their experience at UT Arlington will plant good seeds in their minds and will broaden their horizon about mathematics, science, college and career paths altogether.”

Students participated in engineering activities including: bottle rocket design and launching, egg drop, zip line design for product transfer and delivery, bridge design and construction using toothpicks, weight-bearing towers, and DC power construction. They also had logic lessons, which included: logic statements and standard forms, logical equivalence, standard forms of compound statements, using truth tables, tautologies and contradictions, theorems of logic, arguments, conjunctions and premises of conclusions, quantifiers and quantified statements, and set theory.

The students also went on field trips to the C.R. Smith Aviation Museum near D/FW Airport and the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth.

“Students attended over 20 lectures by professionals working in STEM fields and others who were mostly from underrepresented backgrounds and who serve as role models for our students,” Cordero said. “The faculty members who taught the courses are outstanding and experienced AISD teachers.”

Cordero said the program’s greatest asset is its staff, including Lubbe, teachers and program assistants, and mathematics department staff. She said the PREP director from San Antonio, Rudy Reyna, visited UT Arlington in June was very impressed with the staff’s dedication to the program’s mission.

Posted August 20, 2014
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