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Riskin Leads “Redshirt” Consortium to Support Low-Income Students in Engineering

October 24, 2016

Professor Eve Riskin leads the Redshirt efforts across six universities.

Professor Eve Riskin leads the Redshirt efforts across six universities.

Electrical Engineering Professor and Associate Dean of Diversity and Access Eve Riskin received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Grant to support incoming freshmen who are interested in pursuing an engineering degree and who are from economically and educationally underserved backgrounds. The consortium is an extension of the STARS (Washington STate Academic RedShirt) program.

Research has found that increasing first and second-year retention enhances the ability of academically talented, low-income students to successfully graduate with engineering degrees. The Redshirt in Engineering Consortium follows a model practiced in college sports. For “Redshirt” athletes, an individual sits out for a year, developing the competitive skills for gameplay.

Similarly, Riskin’s “Redshirt” model focuses on priming first-year college students for a future of academic success through an extra year of preparation. It consists of intrusive academic advising, an innovative first-year academic curriculum, community building, and career awareness. Results for the STARS program in the first three years have been impressive – 80 percent of STARS students have entered engineering departments, and STARS students have significantly outperformed the overall student body in Math 124, Math 125 and Chemistry 142.

 “I learned of the original Redshirt at the University of Colorado through College of Engineering Director Scott Winter,” Riskin said. “We [UW and WSU] contacted Professor Jacquelyn Sullivan at CU-Boulder, and she and her team offered to coach the UW and WSU teams on building their own Redshirt programs.”

The Consortium grant, entitled “Collaborative Research: The Redshirt in Engineering Consortium,” is a multi-university project. Six universities will replicate and test a model originally developed at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The model is designed to increase the retention and success of low-income students from underserved populations.

There will be 800 scholarships awarded among the partnering institutions. The University of Washington leads the Consortium. Other members include: the University of Colorado, Boulder; Washington State University; Boise State University; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and the University of California, San Diego.

“We visited CU-Boulder in September to observe their program and facilities,” Riskin said. “Their goal is to have 100 Redshirt programs in the United States. We are excited to work with them to spread the Redshirt model – I truly believe ‘redshirting’ is the way to support underserved students in engineering. It is waste of talent to not provide opportunities in engineering to students just because they come from less privileged backgrounds.”

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