While Michael Brown earned his bachelor and master’s degrees in industrial and systems engineering at Rutgers, he also holds a Doctor of Education degree in science education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. He regularly applies his training in both engineering and education to his role as the SoE Access Programs assistant dean and director for the School’s EOF/EOP Program, which provides financial and academic assistance to low-income New Jersey residents who show academic and/or creative promise but who lack adequate resources for college. Brown is a block grant facilitator for the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and a Region-A board member of the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates (NAMEPA). He is currently serving as the PI for the NSF NOYCE Teacher Scholarship Program for engineering and physics students and as an advisory panelist for the NSF-funded Preparation in STEM Leadership Program.
Why did you choose Rutgers?
I’d had some exposure to engineering doing summer programs at a pre-college level so when it came to what to do for college, I was pretty sure I wanted something related to math, science, and engineering. Rutgers offered me a scholarship opportunity as a Carr Scholar, which meant I wouldn’t put a burden on my family. And, I could be away from home but still get home for Sunday dinners.
What were your takeaways as a student?
I got to know the school inside and out – and experienced everything from the organizations to support for students, myself. I fell in love with engineering and knew I wanted to help develop future generations of engineers as well.
How do your student experiences inform your work today?
I viewed the EOF program as the place to go first to see how I could get connected. I’m trying to see it does the same thing today. I see the EOF/EOP program as a one-stop shop, where students know this is a place to connect with the organizations, resources, and support they need.
For EOF and EOP students coming in who have unique, or challenging, financial situations and family circumstances, we see that they don’t have to figure out the whole college thing by themselves.
For example, a lot of our first-generation students don’t have the kind of family support kids whose parents went to college have. So, this is a crucial step to avoid the 60-70% drop-out rate for first-generation students.
How does the program break down in terms of EOF and EOP?
For SoE they are one and the same big community of services and help in transitioning to college life. EOF students meet financial and state requirements to receive grants from the state-funded program.
Some students may not quite qualify for EOF, although they are still in underrepresented populations – African American, Latino, and women students—that we want to grow. That’s where EOP, which is school-funded, comes in. EOP students are eligible for the same level of services and support that EOF students receive.
How many students do you currently serve?
We serve 104 EOP students and 209 EOF students, for a total of 313 students in both programs. Women make up 27% of program students, while 23% are African American and 39% are Hispanic.
What is the EOF/EOP program’s biggest benefit?
There are two things. First, the holistic advising that gives students a point of contact for personal, professional, or academic support is the most important piece.
Academic support is second. Some students did homework and regurgitated material without having to study a lot in high school, but now they’re dealing with the competitive nature of engineering. Students need the ability to teach themselves to deal with information they’ve never seen before, work collaboratively with their peers, and learn from one another and on their own.
The students who catch on early are the most successful in making the transition to college.
Do all incoming students take part in the Summer Institute Bridge Program?
Everyone we bring in is admitted under the condition that they successfully complete the summer program, so we can see they are college ready. Not all successfully finish and not all decide to come after experiencing our so-called boot camp. It’s a two-way evaluation period to help us understand what they will be capable of in the fall semester and for them to see if they can see themselves doing this for the next four years.
What are you most proud of in terms of the program’s success?
I’m most proud of the fact that we’re taking students that would not have been admitted to the University without this experience – and that we’re retaining and graduating them at same rate as the School.
They’re landing amazing jobs with top companies and they’re doing great. They may face difficulties, but they are earning money and are compensated. Work is hard, but everything else is a whole lot easier.
Do you keep in touch with program alumni?
Absolutely. Graduates come back to talk at the summer program. There are other opportunities for alumni to come back, reconnect, and support students. They show students that being successful engineers or entrepreneurs is a real possibility.
Is there any advice you’d give entering students that you wish you’d had?
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when you’re a student here. There are so many different resources and connections to help you take full advantage of your experience.
There’s a whole world of new things in this mosh pit of learning that you never thought about. My biggest piece of advice: home in now, figure out what to take advantage of that’s here and how it connects to your long-term career goals.
Take advantage of your experiences. Don’t be afraid to try something new or outside of your comfort zone. You have access to so many different resources on campus. Whether you want to work for yourself or Fortune 500 companies, there are resources and connections to get you started.
I’m a prime example. I never saw myself doing what I’m doing now. I wanted to get a job, be an engineer, pay my bills and take care of my family. But because I got involved in the Minority Engineering Educational Task chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (MEET/NSBE), and became an RA on campus who was responsible for 66 students on my floor from sophomore year on, I took part in a culture of mentorship and helping students. Then, looking long term, I wanted to put projects and resources together to help students and help engineers.