Academic ‘Red Shirt’ Program Draws Women, Minorities Into Engineering

By Katherine Long
The Seattle Times.


When she got the letter in summer 2013, Courtney Seto thought it sounded too good to be true.

A free program that offered automatic acceptance into the University of Washington’s engineering school? Did everyone get this letter?

Seto had already been accepted to the UW as an incoming freshman, but she expected to apply to the College of Engineering at the end of her sophomore year, competing against 1,000 other UW students, of which only about 55 percent get in.

So Seto set the letter aside, until somebody at the UW called and convinced her it was for real.

Now in her sophomore year, Seto has already been accepted into the industrial engineering department, thanks to the UW’s State Academic Red Shirt program, or STARS.

In an idea borrowed from college athletics called redshirting, STARS enrolls promising engineering students, many of them women and minorities, to give them an additional year of collegiate academic work before they’re ready for the big time. A similar program is in its second year at Washington State University.

Seto was a perfect candidate.

She was good at math and science, did well on the national Advanced Placement calculus exam and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class at her high school in Vancouver, Wash.

But her school didn’t have strong math and science departments, and the students’ standardized test scores were low. Because she was so bright, Seto didn’t have much trouble making A’s.

Students like her often don’t make the cut for UW’s engineering schools. Because engineering has become so competitive, the top candidates tend to be from high schools with high standardized-test scores and rigorous college-level courses. Those schools also usually have a wealth of extracurricular activities where students further hone their interest in the sciences.

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