Dr. Doris Espiritu talks to an engineering student at Wright College.

As Wright College’s Engineering and Computer Science program has grown over the years, the attention on its unique model has grown, too. In 2021, the program was named an “Inspiring Program in STEM” by INSIGHT into Diversity. Last year, it was recognized as an Example of Excelencia by Excelencia in Education.

For those familiar with engineering at Wright, the program’s success may come as no surprise. Its supportive, barrier-breaking model has enabled its growth from just a handful of students in 2018 to over 500 today. But for those unfamiliar with its origin story, the Dean of the Center of Excellence for Engineering and Computer Science, Dr. Doris Espiritu, is working to share its success so others can learn from it.

On January 31, 2024, Dr. Espiritu participated in a panel discussion with Excelencia in Education titled “Elevating What Works for Latino Students: A Conversation with Practitioners Leading Successful Programs.” The conversation brought the leaders of the four 2023 Examples of Excelencia together to explain their models and share advice to over 700 attendees regarding everything from data and funding to intentional support and program sustainability.

Photo of Dr. Doris Espiritu
Dr. Doris Espiritu

For her part, Dr. Espiritu emphasized the importance of building a “community of practice” in Wright’s engineering program. She explained the cohort model of the program and how it encourages students to both lean on and learn from each other.

“Especially for engineering, you really need a community,” Dr. Espiritu told the panel. “If you ask our students, ‘what is it for the engineering program that really helps you succeed?’ It’s that combination of really having a community [where] they feel like they belong and they succeed together.”

Later in the discussion, Dr. Espiritu also spoke to the critical nature of internships in helping her students be competitive as applicants. Last year, over 70 of the students in the program participated in work-based learning opportunities, whether they interned or conducted research for reputable organizations. The other panelists agreed that internships are a key to success for their students.

The next day, on February 1, Dr. Espiritu was the featured speaker for a presentation with the Inclusive Engineering Consortium titled “Talking About Community College Transfer (T³).”  During this presentation, which was focused on the transfer process from Wright to four-year engineering programs, she explained the engineering program’s guaranteed admissions pathways for students, including those with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Beyond articulation agreements, Dr. Espiritu spoke about the importance of using a holistic approach to transfer—one that addresses the academic, financial, adjustment, and socialization barriers that students may face at any point along their transfer journey. For example, the Engineering Bridge program at Wright, which takes place the summer before students start their engineering courses at the college, allows them improve to their math skills, meet a community of peers, and earn a stipend for their participation. The Bridge program helps students prepare for Wright so they are later prepared to transfer.

Her key message was clear: “If you support students, you will be able to increase enrollment—and not just enrollment but retention, [too],” Dr. Espiritu said.

To learn more about Wright College’s Engineering and Computer Science program, visit www.ccc.edu/engineering.