• by Manuel P. Berriozabal, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 1998 • 

The Texas Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) identifies high achieving middle school and high school students who are potential engineers or scientists and gives them reinforcement to successfully pursue college engineering and science studies. Women and minority students are special target groups. The program was created in the summer of 1979 by a partnership of 20 community and senior colleges in 11 cities.

PREP is an academically intense summer program that stresses development of abstract reasoning skills, problem-solving skills, and career opportunities in engineering and science. Participants commit themselves to eight weeks of intellectually demanding classes and laboratories. They complete class assignments and laboratory projects and take scheduled examinations, including a final examination in each course.

All participants are expected to maintain a 75 average or better performance standard during the program. Each student earns a final grade, which is reported to his or her school. Participants can return for second and third summer components.

Since a significant number of minority students come from low-income families, PREP charges no tuition or fees. In this way, low income is not a barrier for applicants. Also, PREP has been designated as a service provider by the local Summer Youth Employment and Training Program (SYETP) sponsors.

Some poverty-level participants can earn at least $800 for their PREP experience. During the school year, many PREP students participate in an academic co-curricular program conducted by the local chapters of the Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering.

In 1997, PREP served 2,627 students. The program staff included 160 instructors who are college faculty members, middle school and high school teachers, an Air Force officer, and civilian engineers and scientists. Also, 161 college undergraduates in engineering and science served as program assistant mentors. The administrative and institutional support staff consisted of 67 individuals. The total support was more than $3 million that year. There were 452 participants who received SYETP stipends, and most sites served free lunches to low-income students through the Texas Department of Human Services summer food service program.

Financial and full-time in-kind staff support comes from various sources: local, state and national colleges and universities; military commands; Texas government; Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Eisenhower Program; NASA; U.S. Department of Energy and other government agencies; public and private industry; professional organizations; individuals; local school systems; and SYETP sponsors.

Many People Had Low Expectations for Minority Students

When PREP first started 19 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that it was doomed to failure because teenage students would never want to spend eight weeks during the summer studying mathematics. Furthermore, minority students would not succeed in this structured and disciplined environment.

In 1979, an article was published in a San Antonio magazine concerning the establishment of an engineering program at UTSA. The article included the following statement: “The Mexican American community is not where engineers come from anyway” (Walker, 1979).

Science magazine dedicated its November 1992 issue to minorities in the science pipeline. One interviewee, who as a high school student participated in an intervention program, commented that we spend too much effort getting students to love science and mathematics instead of preparing them academically to pursue these areas (Sims, 1992).

This is simply a variation on a theme from previous years when our able minority high school students were urged to take shop courses instead of college preparatory courses, so that they could enter the labor force immediately upon high school graduation.

PREP Proves Success is Possible

Now 19 years of operation have belied the predictions. Nearly 14,000 students have pursued PREP; 80 percent have been minority and 54 percent have been women. The high school graduation rate is 99.9 percent, the college attending rate is 91 percent, and the college graduation rate is 87 percent. Fifty-four percent of the college graduates have majored in science or engineering.

Although 50 percent of our students have come from economically at-risk circumstances, PREP has proved that, under the guidance of competent and caring teachers, these students can acquire quality educational preparation to succeed in college. PREP scholars develop skills that are becoming increasingly important in functioning and thriving in our technological society.

Some explanations for the success of the PREP partnership include the following.

  • PREP is a well-organized and highly structured mathematics-based academic enrichment program that stresses the development of abstract reasoning skills and problem-solving skills.
  • PREP has high but reasonable expectations of its participants.
  • PREP staff consist of competent and caring teachers, program assistants and administrators who have a strong commitment to student achievement, in particular to minority student achievement.
  • PREP is an inclusive program that welcomes minority students and non-minority students.
  • PREP maintains a data base of all of its graduates.
  • Each current sponsor and benefactor receives a copy of the annual report.
  • As appropriate, sponsors and benefactors receive diskettes and listings – as authorized by our graduates – to use for recruitment opportunities in special programs, college entrance, and permanent or temporary employment.

PREP has received several state and national citations as a model intervention program from

  • National Research Council Mathematical Science Education Board Report – Moving Beyond Myths,
  • U.S. Department of Energy Mathematics and Science Leadership Development and Recognition Program,
  • Mathematical Association of America SUMMA Project,
  • United Negro College Fund,
  • Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award Conference,
  • Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists (1992 BRAVO Award),
  • Ford Motor Company Hispanic Salute,
  • Lone Star Showcase and Salute to Community Service,
  • 1994 Hispanic Heritage Award in Education,
  • U.S. Department of Education,
  • Texas Senate, and
  • Business-Higher Education Forum of the American Council on Education (1992 Anderson Medal Competition Certificate of Merit).

In 1996, NASA awarded a $1 million grant in support of a collaborative effort of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) to replicate PREP in seven Hispanic-serving colleges and universities outside Texas. In 1997, San Antonio PREP was a recipient of a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

Lessons Learned

We must condemn programs that substitute acquisition of computer manipulative skills for intellectual development. We must support generous college scholarship programs for low-income high school students who excel in college preparatory programs in high school.

As in the PREP program, we must have high expectations of our students. They will learn that through hard work and commitment, they can become educated and productive citizens, masters – not servants – of our technology and leaders of our society.


Sims, C. “From Inner-City L.A. to Yale Engineering,” Science (November 13, 1992) Volume 258, 1232.

Walker, T. “The Rise and Fall of UTSA,” S.A. Magazine (November 1979).

Manuel P. Berriozábal, Ph.D., is a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the coordinator of the Texas Prefreshman Engineering Program. This article is adapted from “The Texas Prefreshman Engineering Program: Filling the Pipeline for Workforce Diversity,” proceedings of the 1995 National Symposium and Career Fair of the Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists. It is used with permission from the author.

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]