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Las Cruces Prefreshman Engineering Program celebrates fifth year

As the Las Cruces Prefreshman Engineering Program celebrates its fifth year, 101 middle and high school students are attending an intensive, eight-week course at New Mexico State University


July 25 to explore and prepare for careers in the fields of science and mathematics.
Students from Las Cruces, Gadsden and Hatch may enroll in the program as early as 6th grade, and remain for three years.

The free program, sponsored by NASA, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Intel and others, combines intensive academics with guest speakers and activities.

"I knew how math was very important because of all the things my parents and teachers told me, but never how important and how it was used," wrote a third-year PREP student. "After I joined PREP, I realized that so many jobs depended on math and engineering in order for it to happen and that so many things were designed and made by engineers. There are just unlimited things you can do with it and that's why I have set my future on engineering."

PREP originated in 1979 in San Antonio with Manuel Berriozabal, a professor of mathematics at University of Texas San Antonio, with the goal of encouraging women and minorities underrepresented in the fields of science, engineering and mathematics to explore careers in those fields.

Las Cruces PREP, which began in 1997, is a member of a national consortium of Hispanic Serving Institutions called Proyecto Access. Its goals are to assist in filling the need for highly qualified scientists and engineers in New Mexico; to expose economically disadvantaged students to professional opportunities in science and engineering, as well as innovative technology; to prepare the students for mathematics, science and engineering studies at the college level; and to increase the retention rate of the students in college.

Alyne Fulte, director of Las Cruces PREP and assistant professor of mathematical sciences, said PREP has a tremendous impact on most of its participants.

"These are very dedicated students who come here," Fulte said. "They're giving up eight weeks of their summer to take very intensive courses."

Fourteen of the former participants are now college-age. Thirteen are attending college -- 10 at New Mexico State and 10 with majors in engineering and science.

Fulte said the program gives students a taste of what careers in science, engineering and mathematics are like, through listening to the experiences of guest speakers and seeing the application of technology during field trips.

"Every morning a guest speaker comes from the community to talk about their careers, so the kids are seeing these tremendous professionals every day," Fulte said. "And then the excursions we take on Fridays -- they see this amazing technology being used at high-tech research facilities. It's not just academics, it's an entire package."

One of the program's hands-on activities is the annual rocket launch, set for 9:30 a.m., Friday, July 20, on the university Horseshoe. The "Rocket Launch into the Realms of Possibility" allows PREP students to fashion single-stage rockets out of two-liter soda-pop bottles, a compressor and water.

For more information regarding the PREP program, contact Fulte at (505) 646-5067.