Dr. Doris Espiritu has been teaching and leading programs in chemistry, biophysics, engineering, and computer science at City Colleges of Chicago for fifteen years. She is continually striving to provide research experiences, professional development, and other exceptional opportunities for her students.

She has partnered with institutions like Princeton University and Northwestern University, which recruit students from all seven City Colleges for their Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) paid internship programs. The programs give City Colleges students the opportunity to work with top scientists in the country and abroad, and to present their research nationally. Truman College student Edgar was accepted to the Princeton REU program, where he researched molecular biophysics – an opportunity he would not have had otherwise. He began his studies at City Colleges by taking English as a Second Language and science and eventually pursued a degree in engineering. Today, he is pursuing his PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

In the summer of 2017, Dr. Espiritu trained in computational chemistry at Princeton University and the Czech Academy of Science, which has helped her provide additional research opportunities to students who are not selected for the REU program. Her students work on a data mining project to study the health of the Chicago River or learn how to conduct engineering education research and present findings at American Chemical Society (ACS) and American Society in Engineering Education (ASEE) national conferences.  Dr. Espiritu secured space to work on research experiments in computational chemistry at the UIC College of Medicine, Illinois Tech’s Digital Medical Engineering & Technology Research and Education Center, and at Wright College, enabling her to extend more hands-on opportunities to City Colleges students.

Dr. Espiritu has also been instrumental in creating the Engineering Cohort program at Wright College, which provides guaranteed admissions to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) engineering program. This is the only City Colleges program that has guaranteed admission to the UIUC engineering program and has a selective admissions process that encourages minorities and women to apply.  She was also able to build a Holistic and Programmatic Approach for Transfer (HPAT) model with Illinois Tech’s Armour College of Engineering, which is published and ready for duplication.  The HPAT model has successfully transferred hundreds of students to pursue further education while providing millions of dollars in merit scholarships.

William was Wright College’s very first Engineering Pathway student. A Chicago Public Schools graduate, William landed an internship with Underwriters Laboratories, thanks to Wright’s partnership with the lab and a reference from Dr. Espiritu. He completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UIUC and now works as a product engineer.

Dr. Espiritu continuously builds intentional partnerships that benefit City Colleges students.  She is currently working with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) and is piloting an internship between Wright College and Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology company known for its competitive internship program. In addition, Dr. Espiritu launched the “Digital Bridge”, a computing pipeline partnership with Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) and World Business Chicago. She helped bring a “Discover Computing” program for high school freshmen and sophomores to Wright College in partnership with DPI and Google. These partnerships are just the beginning, as Dr. Espiritu works non-stop to develop additional partnerships with other four-year universities, K-12 schools, non-profit organizations, and industry leaders.

In 2018, Dr. Espiritu was instrumental in securing a $1.68 million dollar research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for “Bridges into Engineering and Computer Science.” The program helped students master up to two years of foundational/developmental math in one summer, and the first cohort of participants are now transferring to top universities around the country. Most recently, Dr. Espiritu has served as a co-Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation’s Computer Science For All grant and as a senior personnel of UIC’s Department of Energy grant.

Dr. Espiritu leads the Wright College Center of Excellence in Engineering and Computer Science and has helped increase engineering program enrollment by 1,400% in the four years since securing the NSF grant and two years since Wright College became a Center of Excellence in Engineering and Computer Science. The Center for Excellence was awarded an INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine’s “Inspiring Programs in STEM” Award in August 2021, and a year later, the Engineering program at Wright College was named a 2022 “Example of Excelencia” for its work to develop culturally responsive practices that create academic and career success for Latino students by Excelencia in Education. Dr. Espiritu’s goal is to continuously improve the Engineering and Computer Science program at Wright to create an equitable engineering education, change mindsets in Chicago and around the country, and expand the Wright College Engineering framework to other City Colleges.

If you are interested in learning more about the work Dr. Espiritu and her students are doing, or want to learn more about the Wright College Center of Excellence for Engineering and Computer Science, you can contact her at despiritu@ccc.edu.

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