Posted on April 5, 2022 by Rory Dew

APRIL 5, 2022 – UTSA’s Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) is hard at work preparing for its summer sessions. Demand for participation is at an all-time high, with more than 500 future engineers having already expressed interest for this year’s programming.

Led by UTSA’s engineering education team which is joint appointed between UTSA’s Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design (Klesse College) and College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) and in collaboration with UTSA’s Academy for Teaching Excellence (ATE), PREP offers instructional programming for K-12 students and resources for K-12 teachers to increase access to engineering concepts and foster an interest in pursuing higher education in the field.

Throughout the spring semester, a taskforce comprised of transdisciplinary researchers and educators from across UTSA’s campuses and external PREP partners have been working to provide STEM enrichment activities for middle and high school students. Some of these activities cover topics on engineering design, systems thinking and algebra. The taskforce will conclude its service in May and a more formal PREP advisory council will be launched this summer.

Current initiatives of PREP are to increase participation of students from Title I schools and from historically underrepresented groups including female students, to update and strengthen the curriculum to align with 21st century needs while maintaining the initial goals of PREP, and to expand local K-12, higher education and industry partnerships.

PREP is spearheaded by UTSA’s engineering education faculty, Alex Mejia, Araceli Ortiz and Karina Vielma. Each of the faculty members bring extensive research and professional experience to UTSA and serve via joint appointment between Klesse College and COEHD.

Meet the Engineering Education Faculty

Araceli Martinez Ortiz : joined UTSA in the fall of 2021 as the Engineering Education program director and Microsoft President’s Endowed Professor . She has a passion for motivating students and teachers and extending STEM education access to underserved and underrepresented communities. She joined UTSA with the express goal of developing a robust program to produce engineering educators who can foster interest and develop relevant skills in students throughout San Antonio, South Texas and the nation.
“In my unique role as a professor of engineering education, it is my privilege to motivate students to recognize their potential and to guide them in developing their talent towards joining the engineering profession, armed with the power to positively impact their communities and the world,” Martinez Ortiz said.

Prior to joining UTSA, Martinez Ortiz served as executive director of the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research and as a research professor at Texas State University. With a specialization in teaching and learning approaches that support students’ academic journeys—including deeper comprehension of engineering concepts and professional development of engineering educators—Martinez Ortiz is recognized as a national leader in intervention and research efforts. In addition, her efforts support women and other historically underrepresented populations in engineering programs at the K-20 level.

Over the last eight years, her research has attracted more than $37 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Education, NASA and others. She also advises NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement on the organization’s many outreach and educational efforts.

Joel Alejandro “Alex” Mejia joined UTSA in the fall of 2021 as associate professor of engineering education and director of the UTSA Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP).

He is an NSF CAREER Award winner with a specialization in researching bicultural and bilingual STEM education, including the approaches that contribute to a more expansive understanding of engineering in sociocultural contexts, the impact of critical consciousness in engineering practice, and the development and implementation of culturally responsive pedagogies in engineering education.

Karina Vielma joined UTSA in the spring of 2020 as the university’s first engineering education faculty member.
Vielma’s research focuses on connecting students, especially underrepresented minorities, to best practices for learning and succeeding in engineering, including positive engineering identity development, research experiences, mentoring, and confidence in mathematical skills. She is passionate about expanding knowledge and best practices to challenge and solve critical issues of access and equity.

About the Academy for Teaching Excellence (ATE)

Belinda Bustos Flores , professor of bicultural-bilingual studies in UTSA’s College of Education and Human Development (COEHD), founded the Academy for Teacher Excellence (ATE) in 2003 with the Department of Education Title V Cooperative Development grant from the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Program. ATE works as a catalyst for the emergence of COEHD as a nationally recognized leader in preparing teachers to teach diverse student populations and increasing the number of culturally and linguistically diverse students who enroll and graduate with bachelors’ and advanced degrees in education.

Meet the Academy for Teaching Excellence (ATE) Faculty

Belinda Bustos Flores has been a Professor and Principal Investigator in the Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching Department (ILT) and is now the Associate Dean of Professional Preparation and Partnerships. Flores guides ATE’s research and secures external funding for the expansion and sustainability of ATE.

Lorena Claeys is the Director of Clinical Professional Experiences and has been with ATE since its founding. She has served as a Program Coordinator, Principal Investigator, Co-Principal investigator, and Executive Director. Claeys engages in research and the development of proposals to support ATE’s mission.

— Rory Dew