ECCO: Accepted students welcomed by Engineers of Color Creating Opportunities program team

Annual retreat highlights RIT and engineering college’s academic, cultural and social support opportunities for incoming students

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Haley Terhaar, from Hershey, Pa., and one of the accepted students participating in the ECCO retreat on April 7, worked with future classmates in the Toyota Production Lab in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering.

More than 75 accepted students and family members participated in the second ECCO Retreat taking place in RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. Organized by the ECCO Center team—Engineers of Color Creating Opportunities—the full-day retreat included presentations by current engineering students, information about college and campus academic and social resources, and activities to give the accepted students an idea of what they can expect as they enroll in the engineering college this fall.

The ECCO Center provides diversity programming focused on increasing the number of under-represented AALANA—African American, Latino American and Native American—student engineers in the engineering college. Over the course of the day, accepted students toured the college and met current students and faculty in several of the labs to:

  • Learn about integrated circuit design and development taking place in the Semiconductor & Microsystems Fabrication Lab, RIT’s clean room;
  • Understand different machining tools and sophisticated equipment in the Mechanical Engineering Machine Shop;
  • Produce 3D-printed electronic tigers in the AMPrint Center; and
  • Learn about the industrial and systems engineering process in the Toyota Production Systems Lab

Haley Terhaar was one of 10 students on the production line building skateboards in the Toyota lab, and her choice of RIT and engineering came after a day last spring traveling with friends on college visits. RIT was the final stop, but it was an unexpected surprise at the end of a long day, she said.

“I loved it,” said Terhaar between duties on the line. The teen from Hershey, Pa., intends to go into the biomedical engineering program and enjoyed finally getting to spend more time at the college. “I can’t decide if I want to focus more on engineering or go on to medical school, but I’m ready to start in the fall.”

ECCO programming began in 2016 and is focused on increasing the number of under-represented students by providing multiple academic and social support programs throughout the year. According to Venessa Mitchell, ECCO Center director, the program can be students’ first connections to classmates and help alleviate the nerves associated with starting college. It is also one of several ways the engineering college helps retain students. Those with early ties to programs and other students and faculty are more likely to complete their studies, said Mitchell.

“This is a more intimate look at the college and a way for the students to build a connection to the college and other students before they start in the fall,” she said.

Vashti Green, an undergraduate electrical engineering major, agreed. She was one of several undergraduates who spoke to the families at the opening session of the retreat. When she came to RIT five years ago, she explored the different engineering disciplines and took two classes over the summer through the Multicultural Center for Academic Success Summer Bridge program. Green elected to enroll in the electrical engineering program where she has acquired hands-on research experience as a McNair scholar, held leadership positions in the student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and had challenging co-op experiences at Toyota and GE Aviation. Just as she began this current academic year, she was offered a job at GE Aviation.

“It was really a good day,” said Green, laughing. “You learn where you can fit, as long as you keep going, things do fall into place.”

Building on the current program, Mitchell sees this retreat as a possible model for all of RIT’s diverse students. It's RITs mission, she said, but the chance for the students to get a more intimate look at the college and build connections is one of the best ways to continue to build a vibrant community.