The AIMS2 Program from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) led and founded by Prof. S.K. Ramesh (2016-17, Vice-President, IEEE Educational Activities) was selected as the winner and leader in the talent category at the University Economic Development Association (UEDA) Awards of Excellence Program during the UEDA annual summit in September 2021. UEDA connects higher education institutions, private sector businesses, and economic development organizations to resources that facilitate economic growth in their communities.
Initiatives from across North America competed in a six-month process, including application, peer review, online presentations, and, ultimately, selection by attendees of the annual UEDA Summit as category leaders. The Awards of Excellence Program recognizes organizations that are transforming their campuses into engines of economic prosperity through leading-edge initiatives in categories spanning the realms of talent, innovation, and place. Throughout the Awards of Excellence process, nominations are judged on the sustainability, replicability, originality, and impact of their programs or initiatives. Those receiving the top marks in these criteria advanced through the process, which culminated in recognition as category leaders by peers in attendance at the annual UEDA Summit.
AIMS2 stands for Attract, Inspire, Mentor, and Support Students and has served over 500 students at CSUN, and approximately 3,000 students at partner community colleges, since its inception in 2011. The program was established with funding from two consecutive grants from the United States Department of Education and has been instrumental in successfully creating a larger, more inclusive pool of STEM graduates that is focused on nurturing and encouraging talented youth from underrepresented communities, including women. It was recognized as the Example of Excelencia in 2019 and by the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics in 2015. The cohort model is an integral element of AIMS2 that helps build community and ensures that students have a strong support network of faculty, staff, and fellow students from the cohort. Students enrolled in the AIMS2 cohorts at CSUN have access to special mentoring and advisement by faculty, tutoring and peer mentoring, social activities, field trips, and opportunities to take part in paid research projects (open to community college students as well.)
The program hosts a broad range of workshops and webinars to support students, as well as an annual student research symposium with posters and papers in a conference setting. All program elements have been adapted to be offered virtually during the pandemic. In the past six years over 250 undergraduate students have participated in 70+ research projects – for approximately 40,000 hours of paid research. Projects are interdisciplinary and cover a wide range of topics that encourage students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Some of the recent projects include New Product Development and Technical Entrepreneurship, HydroSól – A Solar-Powered, Portable Charging HydroFlask Cap, Wireless Keyboard Powered by Piezoelectric Effect, Improving the durability of packaging materials using environmentally friendly vapor phase corrosion inhibitors, Methods to wirelessly power intravascular blood pumps, and Automated Testing and Validation for Software Systems Based on Machine Learning.
CSUN is a significant facilitator of social mobility in the United States with a well-earned reputation for equitable and inclusive education and an exceptional faculty and staff who lead robust academic and research programs. AIMS2 has been invited to participate at several national meetings and was featured in the March 2021 California Briefing on HSIs, as a national exemplar for closing the equity gap in degree completion for Hispanic students, and in a national podcast organized by Excelencia in September 2020. Changing the way engineering is taught, with culturally enhancing pedagogy, mentoring, and undergraduate research broadens participation and makes it globally accessible and useful. AIMS2 graduates have the potential to influence and help others by seeding future investment in underrepresented groups and communities. For additional information, please visit http://www.ecs.csun.edu/aims2.