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NMSU PREP graduates begin the path to college

Most American high school students don't set their sights on attaining careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. And yet, the demand for college graduates in these fields is high. New Mexico State University's College of Engineering is encouraging middle- and high-school students to pursue degrees in these fields through its Pre-freshmen Engineering Program, or PREP.


A young man speaks from a podium.
Addressing fellow PREP students and their families, Santa Teresa High School senior and PREP Four graduate James Graves said the program enhances students' understanding of engineering and allows them to have new perspectives and look at the profession through brand new eyes. (NMSU photo by Linda Fresques)

More than 800 family members and guests gathered on Friday, July 13, in support of 180 students who graduated from this summer's PREP program.

PREP is an academically intensive, six-week summer program that includes hands-on laboratory experiments and projects, such as building robots and rockets. The students take campus tours and hear guest speakers. Each Friday, they go on field trips to places like White Sands Test Facility, Spaceport America and the National Space Museum. Students also take classes in logic, physics, statistics, technical writing and math.

Students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades are eligible for the first year of the four-year program. A great majority of students who participate in PREP come from economically disadvantaged homes and will continue on to be first-generation college students.

In her address to the students, NMSU President Barbara Couture said, "Congratulations for taking advantage of this great opportunity to supplement your academics and learn about future careers."

"PREP is beneficial to students because it helps them prepare academically for their high school experience as well as for college. They become familiar and comfortable with being on a university campus," said PREP Co-Director Tracey O'Neil. "It also benefits the university because it shows nearly 200 students what NMSU has to offer."

Since its inception in 1997, PREP has been a major component of College of Engineering outreach efforts.

"I used to think that we could make every kid an engineer, and many of them do come back to study engineering," said Bill Curtis who has taught pre-algebra and physics for PREP for 15 years. "What really matters, though, is that they go to college."

Curtis is a retired teacher from the Las Cruces schools, now working as a teacher for home-bound and hospitalized students in El Paso.

"These kids gain the ability to work hard at school through the PREP program," added Curtis. "That's a big plus when they get in college. It's a great program - one of the best to get kids to come to college."

Curtis points out that the student mentors, NMSU students who help with the program, are also a big benefit.

"This year they are some of the best we've ever had. They are always there to help the kids and they provide an example of what it's like to be a student at NMSU. Their focus changes from what they are wearing or who they are friends with, to what classes they are taking and how they are doing academically."

"I enjoy being with the kids and challenging them to become outstanding young men and women," said first-time PREP mentor Taylor Harris. "I was surprised to learn that some of them face real hardships in their lives. It's great to think that I can have an impact these kids."

Harris, a senior in aerospace engineering, said that he has benefited from the program, as well.

"I have to do everything that the kids do, so I've heard some excellent speakers and I've been exposed to the other engineering fields."

Santa Theresa High School senior James Graves just completed his fourth year in PREP. "I can't say enough about this program. From day one, it enforces team work, communication, visual comprehension and leadership, all of which are necessities for the construction of tomorrow's leaders."

"PREP provides a challenging learning experience for high-achieving students," said Elizabeth Howard, PREP co-director. "It's phenomenal that we are able to provide this opportunity at no cost to the students."

PREP is sponsored by numerous benefactors, including its largest supporter, the Wolslager Foundation. The Wolslager Foundation has sponsored the PREP program for the past eight years.

At the graduation ceremony, Steven Wolslager said, "This is a great program to prepare you for careers for which there are jobs and for which there is a great need. I hope that all of you will be students at this campus someday."

For more information about PREP, visit engr.nmsu.edu/outreach.education.shtml.