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NMSU joins initiative to retain STEM students through innovative orientation activities

As this academic year begins, New Mexico State University is among 20 higher education institutions welcoming incoming students in a unique way as part of a national science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiative called #uifresh (University Innovation Freshmen). Through this initiative, participating institutions are exposing incoming freshmen to design thinking, entrepreneurship, and innovation in order to attract and retain more students in STEM disciplines.

A woman (left) holds a model and a man sits next to her.
New Mexico State University spring 2015 graduates Ember Krech (left), College of Engineering highest honors student, and Brendan Sullivan, the NMSU Outstanding Graduate Student, were the first NMSU Innovation Fellows and will carry on their entrepreneurial spirit in future endeavors. (NMSU photo by Linda Fresques)

The initiative was created by the University Innovation Fellows, a national student organization, to combat STEM attrition in the United States. A report published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology shows that approximately 60 percent of students who arrive at college intending to major in STEM subjects switch to other subjects, often in their first year. The initiative was launched this past March, during the White House Science Fair as part of a White House collection of initiatives to further enhance STEM in the U.S.

NMSU was among the first cohort of 12 universities from across the country selected to take part in the National Science Foundation’s Pathways to Innovation program in 2014. The College of Engineering now has six student Innovation Fellows participating in the program which is co-led by College of Engineering Associate Dean Patricia A. Sullivan and Industrial Engineering Department Head Edward Pines.

“We are working on our fourth cohort of University Innovation Fellow candidates. Their enthusiasm and activities have helped encourage innovation and entrepreneurship across the College of Engineering. With this new program, we have the opportunity to engage freshmen students in activities that will prepare them for a great future,” said Pines.

The University Innovation Fellows program is run by the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), which is directed by Stanford University and VentureWell. The program empowers students to become change agents in higher education who help their peers develop an entrepreneurial mindset and creative confidence.

The 10 new schools joining the initiative are members of Epicenter’s Pathways to Innovation Program, which helps faculty and administrators fully incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into undergraduate engineering education at their schools.

Ten new institutions joined the initiative:
• Clemson University
• Florida Institute of Technology
• Howard University
• James Madison University
• New Mexico State University
• Temple University
• Texas A&M University
• Universidad del Turabo
• University of Delaware
• University of Pittsburgh

Ten institutions joined the initiative in March 2015:
• Clark Atlanta University
• Michigan Technological University
• NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering
• North Dakota State University
• Union College
• University of Florida
• University of Minnesota
• University of Oklahoma
• University of Virginia
• William Jewell College

From mid-August to mid-September, students, faculty and institution leaders at the 20 #uifresh schools are collaborating with orientation week organizers to provide learning opportunities for incoming students that are fun, experiential, creative and lead to increased engagement on campus. All institutions secured letters of support from their college and university leaders to join the initiative.

Participating schools are organizing a wide variety of specially designed freshmen orientation activities, workshops and courses.

To read the #uifresh institutions’ commitment letters, please visit http://universityinnovationfellows.org.