Blue Ribbon Panel Cites CAHSEE’s Pre-College Program for Increasing Undergraduate Admission and Retention in Science and Engineering

For immediate release
April 12, 2004

CONTACT: Margarita Studemeister (301) 918-1014

(Washington, D.C.)—BEST (Building Engineering and Science Talent) Blue Ribbon Panel on Higher Education has exclusively cited the Center for the Advancement of Hispanics in Science and Engineering Education (CAHSEE) pre-college program, the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Institute, for its promising practices in increasing the admission of students into undergraduate math, science, and engineering studies, and for the superior college completion rates of participants. The report also highlights the STEM Institute for providing personal attention and addressing the “whole person” needs of pre-college students. The report identifies "what works" in higher education to keep women and minorities on the path to STEM careers.

The BEST report is the culmination of a two-year assessment of best practices in pre-K thru 12th grade, higher education, and the workplace seeking to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It was released in February 2004 and will be presented to Congress on April 29, 2004. The BEST report describes rigorous criteria used to evaluate educational programs that focus on diversity while delivering world-class talent.

The STEM Institute is an academically rigorous summer program for high-achieving 5th thru 11th graders that prepares them for the demands of university studies in science and engineering fields. The Institute emphasizes analytical and abstract thinking skills in a cooperative learning environment. STEM Institutes have been held at colleges in several cities in the United States for twelve years, and more recently, also in El Salvador.

Charles E. Vela, CAHSEE’s President and Founder, conceived the STEM Institute with the goal of preparing high-achieving Hispanics and other underrepresented minorities, primarily African Americans, to assume leadership positions in science and engineering. Growing evidence points to the need to develop and nurture high-achieving minority students through their education and transition into professional careers. CAHSEE implements supplementary educational strategies that support high minority achievement from middle school through graduate studies. The STEM Institute represents a successful example of supplemental educational opportunities for students of both genders.

The BEST report comes at a time when the nation is facing a critical deficit of human resources in STEM fields, and the underrepresentation of Hispanics, African American,

Native Americans and women in science and technology. The aforementioned underrepresented groups in STEM fields collectively represent a “new majority” in the overall population, yet these same groups only hold approximately one-quarter of the technical jobs in this nation. BEST recognizes that programs such as the STEM Institute “exhibit ingredients of effectiveness that show promise in increasing student preparation, participation and professional development” and “yield lessons for future planning and action.”

“CAHSEE’s valuable experience implementing educational programs can help shape actionable national policies and programs aimed at developing the technical and scientific leadership that our country needs in STEM fields,” commented Vela.

To date, CAHSEE has served over 1,800 pre-college students via the STEM Institute. All enroll in four-year institutions as freshmen. About 90% of these students have gone on to pursue undergraduate degrees in STEM fields. Several of CAHSEE’s participants have completed or are currently pursuing doctoral degrees in science, engineering and medicine at the nation’s leading research institutions, and many obtain graduate degrees. Slightly over 50% of CAHSEE participants are women.

The STEM Institute is part of Vela’s “Strategic Human Capital Development Paradigm,” A unique model whereby students, from middle school through graduate studies, are taught to master complexity and to develop their leadership and civic mindedness. All STEM Institute courses are taught at the college level and nurture the students’ intellectual abilities and capacities using STEM fields as the medium. The STEM Institute curriculum focuses on mastering mathematical syntax, visualization of intricate structures, engineering and scientific intuition, modeling of physical phenomena, recognition of complex patterns, and abstraction. Students learn to analyze and synthesize complex phenomena that are not immediately apparent.

“BEST’s mention of the STEM Institute is a recognition of Charles Vela’s vision and lifetime dedication to the development of young people, the Latino community, engineering and science education and practice, and to the country overall,” reflected Margarita Studemeister, CAHSEE’s Executive Director. “More significantly, he has accomplished this pro-bono publico and not as part of a job requirement.” Vela is an accomplished engineering-scientist and entrepreneur.

The STEM Institute was founded in the Washington, D.C. in 1992 with the sponsorship of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). In 1993, the STEM Institute obtained the generous support of NASA, as part of the agency’s interest in addressing the underrepresentation of Hispanic Americans in STEM fields. The STEM Institute has been held in Washington, D.C. at the Catholic University of America and The George Washington University; in Chicago at the University of Illinois; in New York City at the City College of New York; in Lawrence, Massachusetts at the Merrimack College; and in California, at Santa Clara University and the California Institute of Technology. CAHSEE in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology expects to launch the STEM Institute in summer 2004, to serve students from the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods in Boston. Since 2000, the University of El Salvador, with the support of the Ministry of Education, has implemented the STEM Institute in El Salvador.

Numerous U.S. STEM alumni have won academic fellowships, science competitions and are sought out by some of the most elite universities in the country. The program in El Salvador has produced several international competitors and medallists in mathematics and physics; and several alumni are pursuing STEM degrees at prestigious universities in the U.S. and Europe.

“The success of CAHSEE’s alumni is a concrete proof that the so-called ‘achievement gap’ is primarily an opportunity gap that can be addressed with proper educational policies and programs,” according to Vela, who is quick to add: “I believe every child can excel if given the proper environment, guidance and affection.”


About CAHSEE: CAHSEE’s mission is to prepare talented Hispanic and other underrepresented minority college and pre-college students, primarily African Americans, to achieve academic excellence, and professional success and leadership in science and engineering. CAHSEE’s programs include the STEM Institute, the Young Educators Program (YEP) Fellowship, The Young Engineer and Scientist Program (YESP), and SAT/SOAR. CAHSEE is funded primarily through the generosity of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Other funders have included Verizon Communications, the Inter-American Development Bank, Fannie Mae Foundation, The Meyer Foundation, and Sun Microsystems Foundation. More information about CAHSEE can be found at

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About BEST: BEST was launched in September 2001 as a public-private partnership to follow through on the September 2000 recommendations of the Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering and Technology Development. BEST was created to bring together the nation’s most respected practitioners, researchers and policymakers to identify what’s working across the country to develop the technical talent of under-represented groups in pre-K through 12, higher education, and the workplace. No comprehensive assessment on this scale has ever been attempted. Its completion will enable BEST to establish itself as the nation’s leading hub for sharing insights into best-in-class programs across the country. BEST’s mission is to spur action to build a strong, more diverse U.S. technical workforce. For this report, BEST initially looked at 124 programs, later studying the profiles of 36 programs in more depth before arriving at its list of seven exemplary programs and five promising ones. BEST will report its findings and recommendation to members of Congress in the spring of 2004. BEST leadership includes representatives from Congress, research universities, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, the National Science Foundation, National Leadership Council, corporate America, and major foundations. BEST is a workforce initiative of the Council on Competitiveness. More information about BEST can be found at

Charles Vela is available for interviews, presentations, and seminars on science and engineering education. For information, please call 301 918 1014 or contact:
Margarita Studemeister

The full pdf document of the BEST report can be found at:


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