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Retaining a diverse group of undergraduate students in Engineering Technology Majors

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2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 7 - Paper 2: Retaining a diverse group of undergraduate students in Engineering Technology Majors

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Melanie Villatoro New York City College of Technology

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Melanie Villatoro, Chair of the Department of Construction Management and Civil Engineering Technology at NYC College of Technology, is a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of New York. Prof. Villatoro is passionate about student retention and performance, as well as STEM Outreach in K-12. She has served as Project Director for the National Transportation Summer Institute sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration multiple years. Prof. Villatoro leads a STEM outreach project at Daniel Hale Elementary School which provides civil engineering lesson plans, afterschool programs, family workshops and field trips. Prof. Villatoro is the Project Director for the Peer Advisement program sponsored by Perkins and designed to increase retention of females across the School of Technology and Design.

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Keywords: Engineering Technology, Undergraduate, Gender, 2 Yr Institution

The number of students enrolling and graduating with STEM degrees in the United States must increase exponentially in order to meet the predicted job shortages in STEM. Reports in the recent literature suggest that the continued capacity of the current and future STEM workforce to meet the nation’s scientific and technological needs is threatened by a sharp decline in the number of available STEM professionals. According to the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2020, while basic STEM skills have improved over the past two decades, America still lags behind many other countries. Women and underrepresented minorities comprise less than 29% and 13% , respectively of the STEM workforce [1]. In order to keep up with the predicted STEM job needs for the nation, we need to increase interest and diversity in STEM. Reports from the Committee on STEM Education of the National Science and Technology Council [2,3], Fayer et al. [4], and the National Research Council [5,6,7], highlight: 1) the importance of STEM to the nation’s well-being, security, and global competitiveness; 2) the need for equity, access, increased enrollment, and diversity in STEM disciplines, and 3) the current and projected increase in STEM workforce shortage. This presentation will highlight the implementation of a successful program in the academic workplace, Perkins Peer Advisement (PPA). PPA provides a successful model for mentoring, recruiting and retaining a diverse undergraduate cohort in engineering technology majors. The program focuses on non-traditional undergraduate students in STEM with complementary leadership training and K-12 STEM outreach. The program elements have the potential to enhance the diversity and inclusion of all underrepresented groups in engineering and computing professions. PPA is a grant funded program at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) committed to increasing enrollment and retention of female and nontraditional students in engineering technology programs. PPA is funded by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century (Perkins V) Act. Participating departments include Architectural Technology (ARCH), Construction Management and Civil Engineering Technology (CMCE), Computer Engineering Technology (CET), Electrical Engineering Technology (EET), and Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET). The Program was launched in Spring 2015 and has been successfully implemented to support associate degree programs in the participating departments. Program activities include professional development, mentoring, faculty development and community outreach. Program information and resources are housed on the OpenLab, a digital platform designed for the City Tech community. A key component of the grant is the communication, recruitment and awareness of females and nontraditional students in STEM through development of marketing materials and participation at local community events. The program is managed by a faculty member serving as the Project Director and experienced students are hired to as peer mentors. The Project Director administers the program and oversees the activities across all five departments. A student is hired as the Peer Coordinator to assist in the administrative tasks required for coordinating the program and each department hires four Peer Advisors/Mentors. The program is beneficial to both peer mentors and mentees. Mentees Peer mentors gain leadership skills and professionalism. The primary focus of the program is on the associate level students; however each semester, there is a cohort of about 20 Peer Advisors working for the PPA program that develop as leaders in their respective departments and mentors for their peers. As peer advisors, they participate in orientation and professional development workshops. The peer advisors are recruited from their respective programs and typically have completed their associates degree and pursuing their bachelor’s degree. The grant provides experiences for conference participation for advisees and encourages conference presentations for peer advisors. Their experience as peer advisors provide them with many valuable workplace skills. Community outreach is a critical component of the program as it benefits the undergraduate students hosting the events as well as the K-12 students participating in them. As part of the outreach component, PPA provides monthly family STEM workshops at the local elementary school and hosts an annual Girl Day event in recognition of National Engineers Week. These activities hope to promote exposure of STEM careers at the K-12 level. Retention rates in the participating majors is used as an indicator for the success of the program. PPA program activities are open to all students at City Tech, regardless of gender. Overall one-year retention rates for all participating students are typically above 75%. The presentation will provide a breakdown of the one year retention rates by gender and ethnicity. These retention rates indicate that the components of PPA are beneficial to all students and can be of particular benefit to target underrepresented groups and promote student success and advancement of a diverse student population in STEM.


[1] National Science Board, National Science Foundation. 2020. Science and Engineering Indicators 2020: The State of U.S. Science and Engineering. NSB-2020-1. Alexandria, VA. Available at

[2] National Science and Technology Council, Committee on STEM Education. (2013). Federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education 5-Year strategic plan. Available at

[3] National Science and Technology Council, Committee on STEM Education. (2018). Charting a course for success: America’s strategy for STEM education. Available at

[4] Fayer, S., Lacey, A., and Watson, A. (2017). BLS spotlight on statistics: STEM occupations-past, present, and future. Available at

[5] National Research Council. (2010). Rising above the gathering storm, Revisited: Rapidly approaching category 5. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available at

[6] National Research Council. (2011). Expanding underrepresented minority participation: America’s science and technology talent at the crossroads. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available at

[7] National Research Council. (2012). Discipline-based education research: Understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Available at

Villatoro, M. (2022, February), Retaining a diverse group of undergraduate students in Engineering Technology Majors Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/1-2--39138

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