The goals of EXPERT embody key areas of national priority: (i) diversity in science and engineering, (ii) sustainable manufacturing, (iii) community outreach, and (iv) technical training. Students at all levels participate in professional development through specialized workshops and seminars. Topics have included technical communication, collaboration, leadership, and entrepreneurship – skills not typically incorporated within coursework. Research projects are assigned to juniors and seniors who are mentored by NC A&T faculty. These projects frequently involve liquid or supercritical carbon dioxide as a benign, recyclable, and alternative solvent for chemical and materials processing. Measuring outcomes, determining if goals are met, and providing a framework for improvement and institutionalization are critical to the success and impact of EXPERT; therefore, an independent evaluator specializing in educational programs was commissioned to critique the program.
An objective of EXPERT is to recruit freshman science and engineering majors (specifically chemical engineering) and retain them until graduation. Twenty-two students were supported by EXPERT in 04-05 (23% juniors and seniors) and twenty-four participated in 05-06 (50% juniors and seniors), with most majoring in chemical engineering. Research projects have included membrane separations, catalysis, carbon dioxide sequestration, and biodegradable polymers, which have yielded more than six student presentations as primary or coauthors. Students have also received K-12 outreach training and performed three local activities to promote science/engineering and sustainability. To compliment EXPERT, which operates during the academic year, strong emphasis is given to helping students identify and obtain summer research and internship positions. Nearly all EXPERT students have had “meaningful” summer experiences. Overall, the partnership formed by CERSP, DCF, and NC A&T has been successful in providing a unique development opportunity for underrepresented students.