Research experiences have long been known to increase student motivation, confidence and retention in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Since the summer of 2006, the department of Mechanical Engineering at Oakland University (OU) has been organizing a research experience for undergraduates (REU) program that has been successful at recruiting underrepresented undergraduates in engineering – women in particular. Funded through the National Science Foundation REU program, this summer REU program seeks to address the nationwide problem of the under-representation of women and minorities in STEM by involving undergraduate students from across the U.S. in automotive-related research projects for 10 weeks during the summer. Ultimately, the goal is to engage participants in rewarding automotive research experiences that motivate them to pursue graduate studies and embark on careers in in industry, government or academia.
Since its inception in 2006, a total of 92 students from 64 different universities have taken part in the program. The AERIM REU program has been successful at recruiting a diverse pool of undergraduate students, with underrepresented groups in engineering (women in particular) representing about 70% of the participants. The program is each year assessed using pre- and post-surveys to assess the expectations of the students, their opinions and beliefs about engineering, graduate school and research and their level of satisfaction with different aspects of the program This provides short-term data on student satisfaction with the program organization, as well as any changes in their opinions and plans immediately upon completion of the program. Yet, one of the most challenging aspects of assessing such a program over the medium to long-term is gathering information about the student participants after they have left the REU program, particularly when most of the participants are from institutions other than OU. Students’ contact information changes over time, particularly after they complete their undergraduate degree and move, which can pose challenges for long-term assessment. Using a variety of strategies, the AERIM REU program at Oakland University has been able to continue to gather longer term assessment data on the student outcomes 11 years since the inception of the program. The main purpose of this paper is to share some of these strategies and to report on the outcomes and assessment results of the program, particularly as they pertain to the graduate school and career choices of the student participants.
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