The interdisciplinary TRANSCEnD team includes Principal Investigator Haroon Stephen, and faculty members from the College of Engineering's Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction department, as well as those from the College of Education's Educational Psychology and Higher Education department.

Jan. 14, 2020
$2.5 Million Interdisciplinary TRANSCEnD Grant to Boost Engineering Student Retention


Activities will focus on managing cultural aspects of engineering education to increase graduation rates for students of diverse backgrounds

Civil Engineering, by many standards, is considered as one of the oldest branches of engineering, beginning with the first time people began to live in structures or use natural resources to create tools. Today, the work of civil engineers encompasses every facet of our lives from bridges, high-rise buildings, roads, or in Las Vegas – Project NEON. While the need for qualified civil engineers has increased over the years, participation in the field has waned, particularly among those segments of society already underrepresented in the STEM fields.

In a statistical analysis report conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), research showed that nearly half of undergraduate students majoring in STEM fields leave by changing their majors or leaving college completely. Additionally, student attrition rates were affected by academic climate, demographics, college preparedness, parental education, race, and gender. Implementing pedagogy with engineering education, Civil Engineering and Construction professors partnered with researchers from the College of Education to explore the causative and correlative factors affecting civil engineering education, particularly for minority students. They applied for and were awarded $2.5 million dollars from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic Serving Institutions to accomplish their goals.  

In 2019, UNLV revealed that the university’s overall first-year retention rate had hit an all-time high at 79.4 percent. Looking to further improve these numbers, in particular for minority students pursuing civil engineering, UNLV professors are working collaboratively to address the growing need of a culturally diverse engineering education.

TRANSCEnD aims to enhance critical TRANSitions from lower to upper division work in Civil Engineering. The project will perform three interconnected activities including: community cohesion building, coherent curriculum development and culturally-responsive faculty development. Further aims of the project are to increase the presence of a learning community among students and faculty, focus on course creation, and assist STEM faculty and graduate assistants in developing and implementing culturally responsive teaching strategies. The most difficult challenge is to engage our students and faculty in the project activities. In order to promote student retention and success, we need to bring cultural change and change is difficult,” said PI and Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction Associate Professor, Dr. Haroon Stephen.

As a designated Hispanic-serving (HSI) and Asian American and Native American, Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, UNLV is in a unique position to promote the success of undergraduate students pursuing STEM degrees. “A culturally inclusive and responsive environment at UNLV will prepare a diverse workforce of engineers,” said Stephen.Diversity matters because it will lead to engineering designs that can meet the needs of many. With a culturally diverse group of civil engineers, there will be a variety of perspectives, as well as personal backgrounds, which is needed for universal engineering solutions.”

Reporting to an advisory board of experts, the TRANSCEnD project will incorporate culturally responsive instruction using evidence-based strategies to manage cultural aspects of engineering education. The project’s findings will be distributed via articles in academic journals, presentations and a website.

The interdisciplinary team of researchers include: Civil and Environmental Engineering and Construction faculty Haroon Stephen (PI), and Co-PI’s Eakalak Khan, Erica Marti, Jee Park; Co-PI’s Tiberio Garza and Blanca Rincon, faculty with Educational Psychology and Higher Education.