Career opportunities for engineers abound, yet for certain underrepresented groups, these opportunities can feel beyond reach. For businesses, finding qualified engineers to fill positions while developing a diverse workforce can often be a challenge. Ergon is proud to sponsor the Summer Bridge Program at the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University (MSU), along with the Louis Stokes Mississippi Alliance for Minority Participation (LSMAMP) and the National Science Foundation — bridging the gap for underrepresented groups one summer experience at a time.
As the name suggests, MSU’s Summer Bridge Program is designed to bridge the transition from high school to college. This period is often challenging for students who struggle with adapting to increased workloads and higher academic standards. Ergon covers the cost of the five-week residential program which offers students the opportunity to adjust to university life and includes coursework in mathematics, science and computer programming. Peer mentoring, soft skills training and social activities are also part of the program.
Many higher education researchers attribute the lack of workforce diversity within science and engineering disciplines to underrepresented student groups switching majors and/or dropping out of these programs. For five weeks, Summer Bridge aims to grow the pool of underrepresented engineering graduates by providing newly admitted students with an integrated opportunity to develop academic and life skills critical to achieving success.
The Summer Bridge Experience
Summer Bridge 2022 welcomed 18 future engineers (10 young women and eight young men) to the program. As part of the full immersion experience, participants received on-campus housing, access to class instructors, peer mentors, textbooks and materials, and meal stipends.
The program is led by Dr. Jean Mohammadi-Aragh, Director of Diversity Programs & Student Development for the Bagley College of Engineering, as well as Undergraduate Program Coordinator and Associate Professor in MSU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
The experience started off with students hitting the ground running. Students visited Ergon’s Paragon Technical Services lab, Ergon Marine & Industrial Supply, and Ergon Refining, which provided an initial real-world glimpse into the Ergon family of companies.
In addition to required coursework, students assembled into teams to complete an engineering research project aimed at providing students the opportunity to learn engineering design while working to solve a real-world engineering challenge. Ergon employees from Corporate Engineering and Business Process Management departments, Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions (EAE), Ergon Refining and Ergon Terminaling tasked students with designing a new asphalt and emulsion tank for an EAE facility. Each team determined the best material for improving Mississippi’s road networks based on research and asphalt tests conducted in the Civil Engineering labs at MSU. With the asphalt selected and the design completed, the students learned computer modeling skills through the 3D printing of their storage tanks. The engineering research project was conducted under the guidance of Dr. Isaac Howard of MSU’s Rula School of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Jessica Lewis, Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions Distinguished Doctoral Fellowship recipient; and Dr. Bill Elmore of MSU’s Swalm School of Chemical Engineering.
While the final days of Summer Bridge arrived much too quickly, the program’s mission of producing lifelong friendships and strong support networks was realized. A final project presentation competition, a celebratory lunch and a fitting challenge to “excel in the years to come” from Ergon Chief Operating Officer, Kris Patrick, rounded out the program.
Often, it is a simple question that gets the ball rolling. “How do you hire what doesn’t exist?” was the question Ergon’s Vice President of Product Stewardship and Ergon Summer Bridge liaison, Bonnie Chapman, posed to her team. Her answer? “You create bridges.”
This was our first year to be involved with MSU’s Summer Bridge Program, but definitely not the last. By investing $900,000 in a three-year sponsorship, the Ergon family is committed to making a difference in the lives of these students and their families while also increasing the pool of engineers in Mississippi.