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K-State Today

March 16, 2011

Growing success: Multicultural engineering program director named the best

By Julie Fosberg

LaVerne Bitsie-Baldwin proves good things come in twos and that collaboration can bring multiple benefits.

Bitsie-Baldwin, director of Kansas State University's Multicultural Engineering Program, has received the 2010 Outstanding Director Award from the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates Inc. The award recognizes her efforts to increase the K-State program's enrollment 160 percent from 2008 to 2010.

In addition, Bitsie-Baldwin is chair of the association's Region D, which received the 2010 Outstanding Region Award. The region includes engineering schools in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Dakota and Texas.

Both honors were presented at the association's national conference Feb. 23-25 in San Antonio. The association is a national network of educators and representatives from industry, government and nonprofit organizations who share a common commitment to improve the recruitment and retention of African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians seeking degrees in engineering.

K-State's Multicultural Engineering Program has grown from 150 students in fall 2008 to 390 students in fall 2010. This growth includes a 146 percent increase in freshmen who identified themselves as black, Hispanic or Native American. Freshmen in the program represented 14 percent of all engineering students in fall 2010, compared to just 5 percent in fall 2008.

"I've received a lot of support from the College of Engineering, particularly from the dean, John English. It's allowed me to take on more challenges and seek more opportunities for the Multicultural Engineering Program to grow," Bitsie-Baldwin said.

"The accomplishments of our multicultural efforts in the college have been absolutely outstanding under the leadership of LaVerne Bitsie-Baldwin," English said. "She couldn't be more deserving of this award and recognition.

"And of course, this growth in enrollment and retention has certainly benefited as well from the collaborative efforts of Associate Provost Myra Gordon and the tremendous financial support of industry partners Dow, Cargill and ConocoPhillips."

A key factor in the program's success has been collaboration, Bitsie-Baldwin said.

"Our enrollment increase really has been because of a collaboration spearheaded by Dr. Gordon, associate provost for diversity and dual career development," Bitsie-Baldwin said. "She helped build a collaboration with the colleges of Engineering, Agriculture and Business Administration that focuses on multicultural student recruitment and retention."

The collaboration includes using the diversity and recruitment programs already in place at K-State and leveraging resources to create additional ways to recruit and retain multicultural students. "We've been able to triple our reach through these collaborations," Bitsie-Baldwin said.

For the Multicultural Engineering Program this included using retention programs like Scholars Assisting Scholars and Connect; a block grant from the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates for scholarships; and $200,000 from the College of Engineering for multicultural engineering student scholars to serve as mentors to incoming multicultural engineering students.

"Support from these three sources over a five-year period has had an impact," Bitsie-Baldwin said.

The collaboration also led to the expansion of MAPS, which stands for Multicultural Academic Program Success. The summer bridge program is for incoming multicultural freshmen in the three colleges. MAPS students can earn five to six credit hours by taking key courses in the six-week program; they get to connect to peers, mentors, faculty, staff and administrators; and they receive personal and professional development opportunities. MAPS was made possible through grants from Dow Chemical, Cargill and ConocoPhillips. Since it was launched in 2007, 86 percent of its engineering student participants have been retained.

"Our next goal is to increase our freshmen retention rates, which have averaged between 80 to 85 percent," Bitsie-Baldwin said. "With our increasing enrollment the challenge has been how to serve more students with the same services. We've had terrific support from our faculty and our student mentors in this regard. We're also always seeking donors to support our retention programming."

Collaboration also played a role in Bitsie-Baldwin helping Region D earn the best region award. The award is presented to the region that has been exemplary in its support of the association's goal of enhancing the recruitment, admission, retention and graduation of traditionally underrepresented minority engineering students. Region D was cited for the increased enrollment in K-State's Multicultural Engineering Program; networking activities to get more corporate members; connecting with the National Center for Women and Information Technology to increase the number of women multicultural faculty members at the region's engineering schools; and promoting research opportunities for undergraduates.

Bitsie-Baldwin joined K-State in August 2004 as interim director of the Multicultural Engineering Program, becoming director in 2005. She has a bachelor's in mathematics from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and a master's in mathematics from K-State. She has been active in the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates since 2004, holding a variety of offices.