Project Regional Alliance in STEM Education, also known as Project RAISE, is helping take STEM students’ education and career to the next level. 

Across Orange County and beyond, Project RAISE is connecting first-generation college students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to paid research positions under the Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). 

The initiative is thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2016, which has now been extended through Project RAISER (Regional Alliance in STEM Education Redefined) with an additional $5 million grant carrying on the success of the original Project RAISE. The grant is being carried out at California State University, Fullerton through September 2026. 

California State University, Fullerton’s Project RAISER and URE partners with ten regional community colleges, including Citrus College, Cypress College, Fullerton College, Golden West College, Irvine Valley College, Mt. San Antonio College, Orange Coast College, Saddleback College, Santa Ana College, and Santiago Canyon College. Students participating in the program receive a $5,000 stipend to cover costs while focusing on their research efforts. 

“Irvine Valley College just completed their first year participating with CSUF Raiser,” says Judith Benavidez, a counselor at Irvine Valley College. “Students described this opportunity as a ‘door opener’ to consider graduate opportunities and broadening their career options.”

She further explains that the program benefits students by providing essential skills to build upon the foundation of their successful careers. These include expanding their research knowledge, building their resumes, and pursuing additional graduate studies. 

“[Project RAISER] exposed first-generation college students to research opportunities and encourages students to present their research at conferences,” notes Benavidez. 

One student who found success in the program is Crystal Enciso, a mechanical engineering student who participated in Project RAISE through lab work focusing on water filtration research. She was one of four students from Irvine Valley College taking part in Project RAISE. 

“My project is modeling fluid flow from whale shark filtration,” shares Enciso. “I worked in the public sector for almost 10 years basically dealing with recyclables, water, and wastewater … so this piqued my interest.” 

Students like Enciso spend a total of eight weeks working in the lab at CSUF where they research the specific project topic they have chosen. Peer mentors work closely with each student to answer questions and provide unbiased feedback. Faculty from CSUF also work closely with students to offer beneficial guidance. 

“I think they’ve just done a really good job at embracing our students and welcoming them to Cal State Fullerton life,” says Yanet Garcia, Director of Educational Partnerships for STEM at Cypress College. “Our students have just been provided with additional resources for them to know what’s out there as far as educational opportunities, specifically with Cal State Fullerton.” 

At the end of the two-month work period, students put together a poster with their findings to present at the symposium alongside other researchers, professionals, and academics. 

“When I tell people that I’m doing research in a lab, that really puts an indicator up on their radar that I’m out there and doing things,” states Enciso. “[Project RAISE] really helped me out. I really liked it.” 

Enciso’s work through Project RAISE motivated her to continue working as a volunteer researcher at California State University, Fullerton following her presentation at the symposium. She continues to work on her water filtration project while sharpening her engineering skills in techniques like Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and Ansys, an engineering simulation software. 

“I don’t have so much of a crunch anymore, timewise. For the last month and a half, I’ve been training myself how to use Ansys,” explains Enciso. “Once I’m done with my midterms, I’m going to run the models I’ve already created through [Ansys] just to see what it’s like and probably design newer whale shark filters.” 

For almost seven years, Project RAISE has been helping students be successful in high-demand STEM pathways. Garcia says she's been watching Cypress College students continuously achieve things they never imagined through the initiative.

“I think Project RAISE has really opened doors for students, specifically those that have transferred,” explains Garcia. “Sometimes you don’t see the impact right away because it just takes time.”

Garcia adds that she often sees students leave the program ‘empowered’ and ready to take on even more academic challenges. 

“You’re just watching this person who has grown so much professionally … I think overall, it’s just empowered students to believe in themselves,” says the proud Director. “It’s all about the student experience. Nothing beats that. It’s a very high touch program, and we work very closely with the partner schools. It’s just been amazing.” 

Project RAISE and the Undergraduate Research Experience are gearing up for another year of success. The next round of Project RAISE and URE begins in June 2023. The initiative not only gives students a valuable opportunity to work on innovative projects, but will also allow participating students to gain essential field experience and confidence to conquer their future careers. 

Benavidez shares that seeing the students complete their projects is a rewarding experience. “It was very impressive to see students’ knowledge and level of confidence when presenting at the symposium,” reflects the counselor. 

“I encourage all first-generation college students majoring in STEM to take advantage of this opportunity.” 

Learn more about CSUF’S Project RAISE and URE by visiting