The current paper describes the structure, project initiatives, and early results of the NSF S-STEM funded SPIRIT: Scholarship Program Initiative via Recruitment, Innovation, and Transformation program at _______ ________ __________. SPIRIT is a scholarship program focused on building an interdisciplinary engineering learning community involved in extensive peer and faculty mentoring, vertically integrated Project Based Learning (PBL), and undergraduate research experiences. The program has provided 26 scholarships and academic resources to a diverse group of engineering and engineering technology students.
Results from several project initiatives have been promising. Recruitment efforts have provided for a demographically diverse group of participants whose retention rates within the program have held at 82%. A vibrant learning community has organically developed where participants are provided both academic and non-academic support across several majors and grade classes. Since May 2014, SPIRIT undergraduate research projects have resulted in forty-five presentations at seven different undergraduate and professional conferences. Twenty-seven PBL and five integrated open-ended design challenges have been completed involving several corporate sponsors and encompassing a wide-range of engineering topics.
Results from a ninety-question participant survey revealed several perceived program strengths and areas of needed improvement. Overall, the participants agreed or strongly agreed that the program had been a positive experience (4.0/4.0) and had helped them to prepare for a career in engineering (3.8/4.0). Undergraduate research activities conducted through the program have helped the participants to understand the steps involved in research processes (3.8/4.0), to appreciate the need for a combination of analysis and hands-on skills (4.0/4.0), and to become more tolerant of academic challenges and obstacles (3.8/4.0). The program’s learning community helped participants build relationships with other students outside of their major (3.1/4.0) as compared to normal course communities. Several participants believed that they were more comfortable with seeking advice from upper class students in the program (3.7/4.0) as compared to upper class students outside of the program (2.7/4.0). Vertically Integrated PBL activities helped participants understand project management techniques (3.8/4.0), teaming techniques (3.7/4.0), and to assume a leadership role on projects (3.6/4.0).
Indicated areas of program improvement included the desire and need for a system of peer-review for the students’ undergraduate research papers; a perceived hindrance to benefit from "journaling" about their program experiences (3.6/4.0); and a need for continued strengthening of activities associated with graduate school application processes as well as preparations for career entry. This paper presents details of the program initiatives, a compilation of survey results with necessary discussion, and areas of possible improvement going forward.
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