Academic Program for EXcellence for Engineers (APEXE), Iowa State University

Information for this profile comes from an interview with Derrick Rollins on December 10th, 2013. You can get additional information about the APEXE program on the APEX program website.

Program Context

The APEXE program strives to prepare under-represented and under-prepared students to be successful in an Engineering field once they begin their college careers. Students must be enrolled in Iowa State University and they take the APEXE program the summer before their first year of university instruction. Students take university courses that prepare them for success in their engineering program such as math courses and physical science courses. The intent is to prepare students for university-level work in a low-stakes environment and to build their confidence with science and math skills. Students also make connections with other students like themselves through the program which helps them to remain in engineering and succeed in their chosen field within the College of Engineering. Approximately 25 students enroll in the APEXE program every summer.

Students take these courses in the morning and in the afternoon they attend professional development workshops. In the evenings, students attend a study hall to complete their daily homework. Students also go on site visits to local corporations or major manufacturing plants some afternoons.

Attracting Students to the Program

When students accept their admission to Iowa State University, they designate which major they are interested in. Students who select engineering are then contacted and invited to join the APEXE program. They are told how to apply and are encouraged to take advantage of the program. Students are selected for participation in APEXE based on these applications. The College of Engineering tries to find spots for any under-represented student who applies to the APEXE program. Students also tend to be selected based on potential to succeed in engineering as measured by a variety of measures (as opposed to solely GPA or other scores).

Major Program Elements

Preparatory Course Work

Students take university courses and workshops through the APEXE program taught by professors within the College of Engineering. Some courses are offered for credit and others are offered for no credit in order to prepare students to take courses for credit once the academic term begins. The APEXE program has students take technical (science and math) courses but may also take an elective social science or humanities course. The intent of this structure is to allow students to be better prepared for the kind of rigorous course work that they will encounter throughout their studies in their chosen engineering field. Also, from the professional development workshops and corporate visits they can truly learn the skills they need to be prepared to succeed in school and in their careers.

Students also have study hall time in the evenings. These sessions are monitored by 'counselors' (junior and senior level engineering students) who help students do their work and support students in learning strategies for completing problems and other study skills.

Professional Development

The APEXE program offers professional development workshops and seminars for students to take in the afternoons and weekends. The goal is to offer information about how to be successful college students, with a focus on skills needed to maintain the heavy science and math course load required of engineering students. These workshops span a variety of different topics such as:

  • Learning how to conduct oneself as a student
  • Visiting each department within the College of Engineering to better understand what career paths each engineering major can lead to
  • Learning etiquette and table manners
  • Developing time management skills
  • Visiting offices around campus to learn where support services are located and how to access them
  • Building a professional network, including a network of peers

Career Visits with Corporations and Industry

The APEXE program takes students on visits to local corporations and industry to learn more about how engineering skills and knowledge can be applied in a wide variety of careers. Students take these trips in the afternoons, after completing course work (alternating with Professional Development opportunities). Students travel to Pella Window manufacturing and other businesses in the area. These visits with corporations prepare students to:

  • Witness career options that exist for different engineering degree majors
  • See how they can apply the skills and knowledge they gain once they obtain their degrees
  • Learn about local businesses and corporations and how they use engineers

Building a Sense of Community

The 25 student participants all have the same daily schedule throughout the 8-week program; they take courses together, attend workshops and career visits together, and attend study hall together in the evenings. This 'togetherness' builds community very fast among the students. By the middle or end of the first week, students have already begun forming lasting friendships with one another. Having the same daily experiences helps keep them interacting, but challenging students through the course work and evening homework also helps them learn to rely on each other quickly. They learn each other's strengths and learn how to work together. They are challenged and find solutions to complex problems together which builds the sense of camaraderie and respect for one another.

The relationships that are formed at during the summer tend to last throughout the student's undergraduate careers. One of the professional development workshops presents information on how and why students should build a network of peers and advisors in order to help them obtain careers. Students know that the friendships they form are beneficial to them for their futures, too.

Program Outcomes

  • 91 students participated in a SPEED cohort between 2008 and 2012
  • 77% of the program participants are still in engineering, and another 14% are in other STEM majors; for a total retention rate in STEM fields of 91%
  • Students know and understand what services are available to them, where the services are located and how to use the services.
  • Students have had basic preparatory level course work to help build basic skills
  • Students have been exposed to all the departments within the College of Engineering in the context of potential career options which helps them decide on a major within the college earlier
  • Students have visited corporations and industry to learn what careers in engineering look like and what kinds of jobs they can have
  • Students form lasting relationships with their peers who they know and can depend on.

Example Program Resources

To learn more about the SPEED Program (precursor to the APEXE program) and it's impacts on student achievement in engineering, read the SPEED Program Annual Report (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.2MB Mar28 14).