In response to a National Science Foundation initiative, the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign launched in 1992 a major, long-term program aimed to increase the number of engineering Ph.D. graduate students from underrepresented groups: women, African Americans, Hispanics/Latino(a), Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, Native Pacific Islanders, and persons with disabilities. At the time the SURGE Fellowship program was launched, graduate students from underrepresented communities made up only 1% of graduate enrollment in the College of Engineering and women graduate students made up 11% of the graduate student enrollment. The College of Engineering was awarded an NSF grant to start this program, which now is supported and funded solely by the college.
Assistant Dean Preston (Pat) Ransom was instrumental in establishing and directing this program. Dr. Ransom ran this program for 21 years before he stepped down in the summer of 2013. He worked closely with the SURGE Advisory committee and key faculty in each department to ensure students had the necessary support to be successful in their Ph.D. program. The SURGE Fellows program was designed and funded to award up to 12 SURGE fellowships per year to incoming Ph.D. students entering the College of Engineering. In Fall 2018, the goal number of annually awarded SURGE fellowships increased to 18.
Over the years, this program has been successful to help the college increase the graduate student population from underrepresented communities. As of Fall 2019, graduate student enrollment in The Grainger College of Engineering from underrepresented minorities is 11% of the domestic graduate enrollment. Women graduate students constitute 22% of total enrollment.