NSF-backed ‘team of teams’ raises stakes for master’s students

Rice, Texas Southern, Prairie View A&M, Jackson State partner to prep future engineers

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L.A. Warren

Michael Douglas

Mike Williams

Jourdan Scruggs

Mary Margaret Edney

HOUSTON – (Sept. 27, 2021) – Jackson State University, Prairie View A&M University, Rice University and Texas Southern University will share a grant of nearly $5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support scholarships for students seeking master’s degrees in engineering and related fields.

Matthew Wettergreen
Matthew Wettergreen
Yvette Pearson
Yvette Pearson

The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi, is also a key partner.

The NSF project, Improving Access to Career and Educational Development (I-ACED), integrates internships and research experiences to prepare students for careers in engineering and beyond, according to Yvette Pearson, former associate dean for accreditation, assessment and strategic initiatives at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering, who led the grant effort.

“Having an affinity for acronyms, I called it the ‘FIRE’ model: Flexible Internships, Research and Education,” said Pearson, now vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The grant will support 220 students from low-income backgrounds seeking master’s degrees in engineering, computer science, mathematics and data science.

Students will select from among disciplines in one of three technical tracks: biotechnology, sustainability and resilience, and digital twinning, a virtual model technique that uses real-time data to support simulations and decision making.

The technical tracks were chosen because of their connections to ERDC’s strategic plan and their prominence as areas of national need.

“We are excited about the opportunity to bring the workforce perspective to this effort and help identify some technological challenges that will need to be addressed,” said Quincy Alexander, chief of the Software Engineering and Informatics Division at ERDC’s Information Technology Laboratory.

"I-ACED is designed to help students gain more from their graduate experience through industry internships, research experiences, mentoring and professional development, all while reducing the cost of a master’s program," said Matthew Wettergreen, lead investigator for the project, an associate teaching professor at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and director of global medical innovation in the Department of Bioengineering.

I-ACED will provide $3 million in scholarships -- $750,000 at each partner institution -- plus funding to support scholar development, evaluation, research and project administration.

Azime Saydam, interim dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology at Texas Southern, noted the focus on master’s students makes the program unique.

“This grant will enable academically talented, low-income students to pursue and complete master's degrees in computer science, mathematics and other STEM disciplines,” Saydam said.

“As we seek to increase the number of students who pursue advanced degrees in STEM, support from the NSF will help foster sustainability in academics and research,” added Jacqueline Jackson, an associate professor of computer science at Jackson State.

“While scholarships may remove the financial burden of graduate education, we've long recognized at PVAMU that scholarships aren't enough to guarantee success for low-income or minority students,” said Sherri Frizell, a professor of computer science at Prairie View A&M. “We believe this unique partnership will allow us to collectively build a program that supports the students' successful matriculation through the graduate programs and into the workforce.”

Magesh Rajan, vice president of the Division of Research & Innovation at Prairie View, noted the program “will improve workforce development and innovation. In addition, this partnership offers more research experience to our graduate students and may likely inspire our master’s students to pursue their Ph.D. at PVAMU.”

Several features make I-ACED unique. “Many programs support undergraduates or doctoral students, while master’s students are often overlooked,” Pearson noted. “This program intentionally highlights the cutting-edge research at our partner institutions. While many projects build their research studies around the students themselves, our research component focuses on the structure, the ecosystem we have created for I-ACED.”

The goal of the research component of the project, led by Eduardo Salas, professor and Allyn R. and Gladys N. Cline Chair in the Department of Psychological Sciences at Rice, is to understand how a “team of teams” approach brings together stakeholders from different organizational cultures toward achieving a common goal.

“Our partnership with ERDC is one of the key strengths of the project,” Pearson said. “Having a strong workforce partner who is deeply engaged in the project is a win-win for the four partner universities, for the students and for ERDC.

“Master's programs are most rewarding when students can leverage the experiences to launch into their next career steps,” Wettergreen said. “We expect this program to produce graduates who have added value beyond their core coursework in industry readiness and professional skills.”

Read details of the awards at the NSF sites for Jackson State, Prairie View A&M, Rice and Texas Southern.


About Jackson State University:

Jackson State University, founded in 1877, is a historically Black, high-research-activity university located in Jackson, the capital city of Mississippi. Jackson State’s nurturing academic environment challenges individuals to change lives through teaching, research and service. Officially designated as Mississippi’s Urban University, Jackson State continues to enhance the state, nation and world through comprehensive economic development, health care, technological and educational initiatives. The only public university in metropolitan Jackson, Jackson State is located near downtown, with five satellite locations throughout the area. For more information, visit www.jsums.edu or call 601-979-2121.

About Prairie View A&M University:

Designated an institution of “the first class” in the Texas Constitution, Prairie View A&M University is the second-oldest public institution of higher education in the state. With an established reputation for producing engineers, nurses and educators, PVAMU offers baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degree programs through eight colleges and schools. A member of The Texas A&M University System, the university is dedicated to fulfilling its land-grant mission of achieving excellence in teaching, research and service. For more information regarding PVAMU, visit www.pvamu.edu.

About Rice University:

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 4,052 undergraduates and 3,484 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 1 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

About Texas Southern University:

Texas Southern University (TSU) honors its designation as a special-purpose institution for urban programming and research. TSU is a comprehensive university providing higher education access to the nation’s underserved communities. TSU’s academic and research programs address critical urban issues and prepare its diverse student population to become a force for positive change in a global society. TSU offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs and concentrations — bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees — organized into 10 colleges and schools on a 150-acre campus nestled in the heart of Houston’s historic Third Ward. Texas Southern has been a distinguished educational pioneer since 1927, and the university has become one of the most diverse and respected institutions in Texas. TSU has positioned itself as a proactive leader in educating underserved students and many who are the first in their family to attend.