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NMSU PREP-ing middle, high school students in engineering, math and science

Area middle and high school students are PREParing for college, thanks to a six-week program administrated by the New Mexico State University College of Engineering.

From left, Michaelangelo Pando, Francisco X. Bilbao, Jaime Gardea, Iris A. Okelberry, Selinda T. Alvarez-Garay, and Michael Calzadillas present a group project Thursday, June 24, at the Dona Ana Community College Workforce Center in Las Cruces. The middle and high school students are among 185 students from throughout Dona Ana County participating in New Mexico State University's annual Pre-freshman Engineering Program (PREP), an intensive, mathematics-based pre-college summer program that provides educational enrichment. (Photo by Joseph Baca, NMSU)

PREP?Pre-freshman Engineering Program?is an intensive, mathematics-based pre-college summer program that provides educational enrichment. This year, 185 students from high schools throughout Dona Ana County are participating. They will be learning logic, algebraic structures, physics and technical writing, while taking field trips that provide opportunities for hands-on learning. Fourth-year PREP students take two dual-credit courses, resulting in six total college credits and two high school credits.

"PREP is housed under the College of Engineering, but the program also includes the sciences and math," explained Erica Voges, an assistant professor at NMSU who heads up PREP. "These are students that are already displaying some talent and interest in those areas, so we're trying to foster that further and really encourage them to keep along that path towards college."

The program is in its 14th year and provides students in sixth grade and above the opportunity to attend for four consecutive summers prior to graduating from high school. There are no tuition costs or fees, and more than 90 percent of the students who participate go on to pursue higher education. All functions except field trips are held on the New Mexico State University campus. The program this year began June 7.

Jon Davis, an assistant professor in the Dona Ana Community College technical studies division, is teaching Introduction to Engineering this summer to fourth-year PREP students. The course covers ethics, engineering methods and how to define and solve problems.

"We started the course off by discussing the Gulf oil spill," Davis said, referring to the oilrig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. "The students are learning how to work in teams and how to brainstorm ideas. Our initial brainstorming resulted in forming three teams to look at three different approaches to handling the spill. One team is focusing on how to stop the spill, one is focusing on how the pipe may be repaired and one team is focusing on containment methods."

The ideas that the students come up with are going to be sent, in the form of PowerPoint presentations, to British Petroleum, the Environmental Protection Agency, the offices of U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, and to the office of U.S. Rep. Harry Teague, who represents Dona Ana County.

"The idea is to get them involved as budding engineers and to focus their attention on the types of engineering challenges that exist, and how complex some of the challenges can be," said Davis, who has 16 students ranging in age from 14 to 17 in his class. "The idea of the Introduction to Engineering course is to touch all the engineering fields so they can get a feel for all the different engineering fields. We're going to do more specific projects related to the different engineering fields, but this one was more related to brainstorming, the engineering method and teamwork."

Interested students must undergo a rigorous application process to be accepted into the program. They have the option of attending anywhere from one to four summers, but they must reapply each year, and they must pass each session with at least a C average in order to move to the next level.

"When you're applying as a first-year student, that's the most rigorous application," Voges said. "You have to submit a letter, you have to submit reference letters from your teachers, transcripts. The curriculum is set so when they sign up for the program they're taking it as a package."

This year's PREP session culminates July 16 with a graduation and awards ceremony at Corbett Center on the NMSU campus.