Jim Killian, 334/844-2308


AUBURN -- Auburn University is ranked 17th nationally among colleges and universities in graduating African-Americans with bachelor's degrees in engineering, according to a new survey by Black Issues in Higher Education.

It was the fourth consecutive year that AU appeared in the publication's top 25.

Black Issues in Higher Education's rankings are based on graduation data from colleges and universities provided to the U.S. Department of Education for the 2002-03 academic year. The data comes from both public and private institutions and includes historically black and predominately white institutions.

"We credit the BellSouth Minority Engineering Program in bringing our enrollment and graduation numbers to these levels," says Larry Benefield, dean of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. "This program has proven that a well-structured academic support network can make a real difference in the education of our students."

Since fall 2000, Auburn's rankings have been in the top 25 for African-American graduation rates, according to Black Issues. The Ginn College of Engineering has averaged 35 baccalaureates annually over the four-year period.

"Much of the credit for these numbers is due to Dr. Dennis Weatherby, who has directed this program since its inception," said Benefield. The program provides proactive tutoring and mentoring to underrepresented minorities entering the engineering curriculum.

Benefield also acknowledged the work of the students who comprise the core of the program, adding, "Their desire to succeed and a strong work ethic have really made it the success it has become."

The College of Engineering's academic support programs have been successful because Auburn has focused on the issues of retention and the creation of an environment that fosters success, says Weatherby, assistant dean for minority affairs in the college.

During the 2002-03 year, Auburn produced 33 African-American engineers, ranking ahead of such programs as Ohio State University, No. 18 with 32 graduates; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, No. 22 with 28 graduates; Purdue University, No. 32 with 23 graduates; and Stanford University, No. 36 with 22 graduates.

North Carolina A&T State University was No. 1 and Georgia Tech second in the survey, with the University of Michigan rounding out the top 10.

Among schools in the Southeast, Auburn ranked ahead of Mississippi State University at No. 25 with 27 graduates; the University of Tennessee at No. 25 with 27 graduates; the University of Alabama, ranked No. 44 with 19 graduates; and the University of South Carolina at No. 44 with 19 graduates.

"Auburn Engineering has made retention and graduation of our minority students the hallmark of our success," Weatherby said. "BMEP has taken a very proactive approach to retaining students. Instead of waiting for students to drop in whenever they feel like they need assistance in their coursework, we ask program participants to maintain a weekly tutorial schedule that consists of several one-hour sessions between class times.

"This arrangement allows students to view their participation in BMEP as an integral part of their academic schedule."

Research suggests that providing structured academic support in this way is more effective in meeting the students academic needs, Weatherby says. The sessions provide assistance in mathematics, chemistry and physics, and include one-on-one tutoring and collaborative learning group study that allow them to benefit from upper-level engineering students as well as from their classmates.

"The goal of the sessions is not just to complete assignments in order to prepare for exams, but to master principles that students will ultimately use in their engineering courses and on the job as engineers, Weatherby added.

Brandi Mia Tate of Ethelsville, Ala., a sophomore in electrical and computer engineering, agreed.

"I felt like I had a comfort blanket around me when I joined BMEP . . . everyone was nice and they bent over backwards to help me," she said. "I dont know what I would have done or where I would be right now if it wasn't for the program. Their encouragement helped me to do my best."

Black Issues in Higher Education, the nation's only news magazine dedicated exclusively to minority issues in higher education, is a nationally distributed biweekly publication with a circulation in excess of 200,000.

The Samuel Ginn College of Engineering is the state's largest engineering program, offering 15 undergraduate programs and 27 graduate degrees.

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