FAMU-FSU Engineering partners with ASTERIX to build pipeline of diversity in STEM workforce

This article was featured in the Annual Engineering Research Report (2019-2020).

Faculty at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering are part of a new Florida International University (FIU)-led consortium of universities, private and public partners, who received a $4.9 million Department of Energy grant to help fill the need for more diversity in the STEM workforce.

Shonda Bernadin, Ph.D.
Shonda Bernadin, Ph.D.


Shekhar Bhansali, Ph.D.
Shekhar Bhansali, Ph.D.

Sharing a vision, the Advanced Sensor Technologies for Applications in Electrical Engineering - Research and Innovation eXcellence (ASTERIX) group is on a mission to provide opportunities for minority students to excel in careers in science, technology, engineering and math. 

Shonda Bernadin, an associate professor in computer and electrical engineering at the college, is the principal investigator for the grant. Through Florida A&M University, about $1.5 million was awarded to FAMU-FSU Engineering as part of the overall ASTERIX project.

“The ASTERIX consortium will build a sustainable pipeline of talented diverse engineering students who are highly prepared to enter the STEM workforce, especially in areas of interest to the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DoE/NNSA) Enterprise,” Bernadin said. 

Shekar Bhansali, a distinguished university professor of electrical and computer engineering at FIU, is the lead investigator for the ASTERIX project. Bhansali also is the director of the division of electrical, communications, and cyber systems of the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

“The consortium leverages the unique strengths of its participants, Florida colleges and national labs, to address one of the grand challenges in developing low-cost sensing systems: how to seamlessly code slip sensors and electronics with new materials for novel applications,” Bhansali said.

The consortium focuses on exploring novel manufacturing techniques to fabricate the next generation of sensors and electronics and provides opportunities for students to work closely with practitioners.

ASTERIX partners include:

  • Florida International University (FIU) 
  • Florida A&M University (FAMU)
  • Miami-Dade College (MDC)
  • Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (DoE/NNSA)
  • Los Alamos National Lab, Kansas City National Security Campus
  • Y12 National Security Complex

The FIU-FAMU-MDC alliance will serve one of the largest populations of Hispanic and African-American students in the nation creating innovative academic and career pathways for minorities who want to pursue engineering careers. 

“We want to leverage the strengths of partnering institutions with established research connections,” Bernadin said. “We hope to recruit and train academically-talented minority students from Kindergarten through college, using a variety of activities in outreach, education and research.” 

Sastry Pamidi, chair and professor of the electrical and computer engineering department at FAMU-FSU Engineering and associate director of the Center for Advanced Power Systems, is working with Bernadin as a co-investigator for the project.

“The project is a great opportunity for our undergraduate and graduate students to get involved in highly collaborative research and provides excellent networking and professional growth opportunities,” Pamidi said. “The success in the project will lead to more opportunities for our department and college to establish relationships with government laboratories, Florida International University, and Miami Dade College.”

The consortium hopes to recruit well-qualified STEM students to satisfy the increasing demand for scientists and engineers in areas of interest to the DoE, specifically, in advanced sensor technologies for applications in electrical engineering. Both undergraduate and graduate students will have access to enriching educational experiences, internship opportunities at ASTERIX and DoE laboratories.

“We hope to strengthen partnerships between the FIU, FAMU, and MDC electrical engineering departments and DoE enterprises,” Bernadin said, “and to allow young minority students to be trained as scientists and engineers to meet the research needs of a more diverse and representative industry.”