Navajo Technical University Awarded NSF Grant to Increase Pathways to STEM Careers

Oct 23rd, 2015 | By | Category: Online TC News, Tribal College News, Web Exclusive
By Daniel Vandever

NAVAJO TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY AWARDED STEM GRANTNavajo Technical University (NTU) was recently awarded a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant totaling $2,497,230 to support efforts in increasing access to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) by pairing dual credit opportunities with online education. The project, entitled, “The Navajo Technical University Pathways to STEM Careers Project,” will seek collaboration with local high schools to offer a pre-engineering course that students can take for both high school and college credit. The course will be offered online, allowing both high school students and any interested adult with a high school diploma to begin the process towards earning a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering.

According to NTU electrical engineering instructor Dr. Peter Romine, NTU will be researching all methods and obstacles in the area of online education and identifying effective solutions for carrying out the dual credit program. High schools involved with the project initially will be located in New Mexico since several dual credit agreements are currently in place. However, NTU has already begun work with several high schools in Arizona to increase the program’s reach.

“Our goal is to address the entire reservation, but because of distance we’re going to start with schools closer (to Crownpoint),” explains Romine. The grant will span over five years, paying out nearly $500,000 annually to NTU. Grant monies will be utilized to hire additional personnel, including another electrical engineering instructor, a dual credit coordinator, equipment for the high schools, and additional e-learning support.

NTU’s electrical engineering program currently has about 25 students enrolled, more than double than last year. According to Romine, the majority of the program’s students have funneled through NTU’s electrical trades certificate program and energy systems associate degree, while others came back to school after experience working in the professional field.

One such student is Hanson Tapaha of Balakai Mesa, Arizona, who enrolled in NTU’s electrical engineering program last year after working several years as an electrician. “Going to college was intimidating to me,” reflects Tapaha, whose father was a lineman journeyman at Navajo Tribal Utility Authority for over 30 years. “I didn’t want to leave the reservation at the time so I went to work. . . . I think (the electrical engineering program) is fun,” Tapaha adds. “When you do something you care about it’s fun. It doesn’t seem like work. When you put your heart into it, it makes things simple. I always wanted to be an electrical engineer.”

With the grant, Romine hopes to make such dreams possible for residents throughout the Navajo Nation. “I want the program to be attractive to all types of students,” he states. “Those straight from high school, those who have gone in the trades and worked, and those looking for a new career. We need to inspire people to become designers, engineers and inventors.”

NTU’s Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering requires 135 credits and is structured to prepare students to design and improve electrical, electronic, and computer systems. The program combines practical exposure to the most modern technologies available with a theoretical foundation that empowers students to master future changes and innovations as technologies continue to evolve. The program has three concentrations: computer engineering/digital systems, electric power and energy systems, and manufacturing.

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