College of Engineering

START program helps prepare students for university studies

Students considering a technical major who need a stronger background in math and science are encouraged to enroll in START (Steps Toward Abstract Reasoning and Thinking) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

The one-year program includes a mathematics course that covers algebra and calculus; a science course that helps students understand and solve problems in chemistry and physics; a problem-solving class that teaches effective reasoning skills; and counseling and tutorial aid to help participants adjust to university life.

Upon successful completion of the course, students can continue to pursue a bachelor's degree in any of the College of Engineering majors, mathematics, chemistry or any other field, usually over an additional four years.

According to Anne Boisvert, assistant director of alternative admissions, women and students of color, groups traditionally under-represented in the scientific and technical fields, can also benefit. "The goals are to help students think critically as scientists and mathematicians. They will not know everything but will learn to ask questions to find out what they need to know."

Access to a counselor, tutoring and a weekly peer group session are key components.
"It really goes beyond the material. They learn how to become successful students and how to stay on track," Boisvert said.

Nate Manderson, counselor of College Now and START, teaches a "University 101" class that includes test taking skills, note taking tips and other positive study habits.
"The major topic in the class is time management," he said. "The students learn how to balance time because university life is so different from high school where they have less personal responsibility...I also teach them how to connect with teachers outside of class time if necessary. I'm in close contact with the teachers to discuss ways to better reach these students. That support system is what makes START unique."

START instructors are John Silva and Charles Nickles, visiting lecturers in physics; David Goncalves, visiting lecturer in mathematics; and Boisvert, who formerly was a visiting lecturer in mathematics for 20 years.

Participants do not choose a major and are exposed to a range of disciplines to see what interests them. Boisvert said that students sometimes opt out of an engineering field to pursue degrees in psychology, business or other majors. Manderson noted that three former START students are currently teaching mathematics at public schools, including Goncalves. Carlos Almeida, a full-time lecturer in the university's foreign languages department, is also a START alumnus.

"The START program was an excellent transition for me going from a vocational high school to studying at the university level," said Goncalves. "The program helped me with my confidence and definitely strengthened my skills."

Goncalves worked as an engineer for approximately six years before starting a teaching career. "Because of the respect I had for my professors in START, I credit them with my pursuit of my true passion--to become an educator."

Kevin Jose graduated from START in spring 2006 and is now enrolled as an electrical engineering major. "The program helped me in numerous ways to go for my dreams," he said. "If I hadn't gone through START, I would not have been prepared to handle my initial or current academic tasks in my major."

Jose is working as a START basic algebra and pre-calculus tutor and describes himself as a "guide" to those seeking acceptance into the College of Engineering. "I remember from my freshman year that there was a need for upperclassmen to serve as role models for the younger students. Through tutoring, I feel I've been able to fulfill that need."

At the end of each semester, class members exhibit examples of projects related to their fields of interest. This past semester's exhibits were the summation of several weeks of combined classroom and individual research, according to Silva. Projects included diverse engineering topics such as robotics, NASA spacecraft design, wind power for the UMass Dartmouth campus and energy efficient homes.

"Projects of this type allow students to gain insight and enthusiasm for a fulfilling lifelong career," Silva said.

START was created more than 20 years ago by the late Dr. James Kaput, chancellor professor of mathematics and Dr. Joseph Sauro, former interim dean of the College of Engineering and physics professor emeritus.

For more information, contact the College Now/Admissions Office at (508) 999-8703.


Author:  "Susan Gonsalves"
Date:  27-1-2007
Submitted by:  Antonio Costa
Department:  College Of Engineering

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