UF Engineering Boot Camp – Dr. Jonathan Earle’s STEPUP vision, 30 years later

Almost thirst years have passed since Dr. Jonathan F. K. Earle established STEPUP (Successful Transition and Enhanced Preparation for Undergraduates Program) at the University of Florida campus, within what is now known as the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering (HWCOE). The purpose of the STEPUP program was to promote the academic success of first-year students entering the engineering major, many being first-generation and/or students underrepresented within the major, by surrounding them with a network of faculty, peer mentors and other College resources that help them successfully transition into college life at UF.

Born in Jamaica, Dr. Earle moved to two new countries and enrolled in renowned universities as he advanced his education. First, he traveled to England, where he received his bachelor’s degree (BSEng) in Civil Engineering, from the University of London, and then moved to the United States to complete his master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Florida. He joined the UF faculty in the Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering in 1987, where his teaching and research interests encompassed higher-education engineering administration, engineering education, pollution control, water-resources management, and solid- and hazardous-waste control.

A life full of academic accomplishments accompanied by a lifetime of giving, sharing, and supporting young people in achieving their goals.

In 1992, Dr. Earle was appointed Assistant Dean and then Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the University of Florida’s College of Engineering. Dr. Earle recognized early in his career the critical importance of a successful transition and strong support network for all first-year engineering students due to the demanding, competitive, academic, and social setting of the major. While serving as Associate Dean, Dr. Earle created the Engineering Student Services Center to provide advising, retention resources and academic support to engineering students. In 1993, he created STEPUP to increase retention and graduation among engineering students.

Any incoming UF freshmen who has elected engineering as their college path could apply for the STEPUP program. Students from underrepresented populations (46% of the 2018 cohort) find STEPUP especially beneficial as it provides them with a strong support network.

Students accepted into the program participate in a rigorous 6-week summer residential component (June-August) that incorporates team-building activities, a strong curriculum, industry and faculty speakers, professional development workshops and corporate tours.

During subsequent fall and spring semesters, the program includes various programs and activities that promotes the success of the student through their involvement in experiential learning activities, academic support resources, peer mentoring, a corporate speaker series and other professional development activities. These activities were tailored to continue the support provided to STEPUP participants without interfering with the students normal semester courseloads.

After the first year, program participant support services continue throughout their second year in college and beyond through programs such as “STEPOUT,” a supplemental program created for STEPUP students to promote their success and participation in experiential learning activities such as, study abroad, internships, externships, undergraduate research, and other student leadership development opportunities.

Dr. Earle’s efforts have resulted in an average freshman-to-sophomore retention rate of 83%, compared to a retention rate of 75% for students not participating in STEPUP, a solid indicator of the program’s success.

Dr. Jeremy Waisome, a STEPUP alum and current faculty member in the UF HWCOE Department of Engineering Education stated,

“Success comes when preparation meets opportunity.” If you know Dr. Earle, you’ve heard that phrase. That, along with “practice, practice, practice!” He was adamant about the necessity for students to do the hard work of achieving academically, before participating in extracurricular activities. Everyone will tell you that STEPUP is ‘engineering boot camp.’ It is, and it works. We practiced, we learned, and as our skills improved, so did our friendships. We became engineers in all disciplines – CEOs, entrepreneurs, scientists, physicians, academicians, and more. We achieved because Dr. Earle dared to dream of programs that not only trained students but fostered an eternal bond more powerful than the institutionalized barriers that so often ensnare minority students.” 

In 2000 – 2001, building on the success of STEPUP, Dr. Earle implemented EFTP (Engineering Freshman Transition Program), which provided a nonresidential experience open to all engineering first-year students. Although EFTP program is no longer in existence, the program provided an excellent example of possible methods of extending the benefit of STEPUP targeting a much larger grouping of students and/or students at UF outside of the engineering major.  

In 2007, Dr. Earle received the National Science Foundation (NSF) Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. In December 2007, Dr. Earle retired from his 15-year-long term as Associate Dean; he now holds the honored title of Associate Dean Emeritus.

Dr. Angela Lindner, former Associate Dean for HWCOE (2008 – 2015) and former UF Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs, remembers following in Dr. Earle’s footsteps as she succeeded him upon his retirement: “Following Dr. Earle in the Associate Dean role was very intimidating for me until we first met after I began in that role. After we sat down in my (his former) office, he asked if we could pray together. This simple gesture spoke clearly of his character—his courage, his faith, his integrity, his mentoring heart—that so strongly shaped the student-centered focus of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. Dr. Earle’s legacy in the college will be lasting, as will his mentoring heart remain in mine.”

Dr. Curtis Taylor, HWCOE Associate Dean of Student Affairs, 2016 – 2023 reflected on Dr. Earle as a strong role model for STEPUP students: “The thing I remember most and admire about Dr. Earle was his presence. He modeled and demanded excellence in students, and all of us. Excellence forms the hallmark of STEPUP and is what makes it such a successful program.”

Dr. Jonathan F.K. Earle passed away on June 2, 2022. Time and space are too short to recount all of the extraordinary things that Dr. Earle accomplished during his life. He was extremely humble and did not seek awards or attention. He was passionate about people, and related to people from all walks of life. Through his work with the University of Florida, he was able to positively impact the lives of thousands of students. Many of those students will recall that those many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners where upwards of a hundred students, especially from CARIBSA and STEPUP, at each event, were welcomed with open arms into the Earle family home. His legacy is a legacy of love, mentorship, brilliance, and lives changed for the better. He left an indelible mark on peoples lives that can be rarely matched. 

We know that Jonathan is celebrating his new phase of life in Heaven with his wife Yvonne. He left the world a better place than he found it. All we can do is thank God for blessing us with such an extraordinary human being. 

Jonathan was predeceased by his wife Yvonne, but he is survived by his three children Kevin, Celia, and Jeremy, daughters-in-law Nattaliah and Hillary; granddaughter Gabriella; sister Dr. Sylvia Lawson, and brother Deryk Wallace, and sister-in-law Alda, nieces and nephews, grandpup Tobie, and a host of thousands of other sisters, and brothers, and “adopted” children. The family would also like to thank his aide, Ingrid Masters-Wigan, who was faithful to him until the end. Without a doubt, he fought the good fight throughout his life, and he finished his race with the highest honor. He kept the faith!

May his soul rest in Peace, and his vision for promoting the success of all engineering students live on forever!