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MATC Scholars Program welcomes underrepresented students to graduate studies with resources for success

The UNL Mid-America Transportation Center hosted its first annual MATC Scholars Program, Sept. 23-24, to recruit undergraduate students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics to graduate studies.

The program focuses on providing underrepresented students with support skills for pursuing higher-level degrees and research interests, with session topics that included finding a faculty mentor, understanding research funding processes, and how to choose a graduate program. The 25 students involved in this year’s meeting arrived from institutions around the nation, including Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La., Tennessee State University, and University of Maryland – Eastern Shore.

The MATC Scholars Program is distinct because it was developed by faculty who know the challenges underrepresented students face in making the transition to graduate school, said Erick Jones, Ph.D., a UNL associate professor of industrial engineering, who planned the event’s content with Judy Perkins, TAMU Regents Professor with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Prairie View A&M University.

“Faculty members want you to be prepared,” Jones told the students. “We’ve seen the challenges students face and we want to address them in a way that makes a difference,” with sessions addressing life and educational skills that help students to be successful when they make the leap to a larger, research-intensive university.

Ray Moore, associate dean with UNL’s College of Engineering, welcomed the group and said UNL’s research and academic opportunities will expand as it becomes a member of the Big 10 group of colleges and universities in 2011. Larry Rilett, professor of civil engineering and director of UNL’s MATC, gained interest from attendees for the applied multi-disciplinary research activities MATC conducts. He explained that graduate students help to develop materials and processes with faculty leaders and can participate in collaborative projects that access international opportunities. Kimberly Andrews Espy, UNL’s associate vice chancellor for research and acting dean of graduate studies, provided timely information about the importance of graduate school in challenging economic times.

Civil engineering graduate student Quinton Rogers, who began graduate studies at UNL this fall, said faculty have been helpful in his transition to master’s-level coursework. “The faculty here takes care of you,” he said. Maurice Cavitt, a UNL graduate student studying industrial engineering, served as a panelist for the group and advised prospective graduate students to take advantage of resources and develop a strong support base, including a faculty mentor, and interact with colleagues for more learning options.

For more information about the MATC Scholars program, see http://matc.unl.edu/education.php.