This evidence-based practice paper will explore how a freshmen and sophomore focused research program has produced stellar results in terms of student engagement and student desire to pursue an engineering degree – while also addressing the hot topic of paying for college.
Institutions work hard to recruit and attract students to their engineering programs, and want to do everything they can to engage and retain those students. We know first-year experiences and undergraduate research are both high impact practices (HIPs) that are beneficial to students from almost all backgrounds; AACU coined this term, and several other organizations have also discussed and documented these practices for many years. Actually implementing such practices can be quite daunting. This paper will provide clear, concise information on how one institution not only created a very successful first-year (and sophomore) engagement experience that involved undergraduate research, but also paid students for their time in research labs, thus addressing two of the hottest topics today for students – the rising cost of obtaining a college degree and the astronomical level of student loan debt many students need to incur in order to earn a degree.
This paper will detail the process used by one institution to create, fund and implement a first-year/freshman (and sophomore) research program. The paper will start with the task of matching research faculty to qualified students; many research faculty want to employee undergraduate students in their labs and many undergraduate students want to work in labs, so the real issue is one of matching. Next, the topic of funding will be covered. While many students are willing to volunteer in research labs in order to get experience, by paying the students for their research hours, institutions can start to chip away at the high cost of college and incredible level of debt students are incurring in order to earn a degree. The logistics of running an undergraduate research program will be covered, as will the benefits of holding a “closing event” where students can showcase their work. Such an event allows students to summarize their learning, practice their written and verbal communication skills, and reflect on the many benefits of participating in a research program. At the same time, the closing event provides an opportunity for donors to get a detailed view of the benefits to the students, faculty and institution as a whole of sponsoring undergraduate research.
Of course, an undergraduate research program is only valuable if the end result is positive for both the students and faculty, and this paper will clearly show the benefits obtained by running just such a program in the spring of 2019. A survey conducted with the students at the end of the program showed that 85% of the students will be more likely to reach out to their faculty sponsor for mentoring in the future, 71% clarified what they want to do after graduation, and 95% feel more connected to their engineering department. In addition, a survey conducted with the research faculty involved in the program showed 81% plan to continue working with their assigned research undergraduate student, and 100% are interested in participating in the program in the spring of 2020. These, and many more detailed results will be presented, along with information on how to improve future research programs.
Attendees will leave with very detailed information about a successful research program that was just run in the spring of 2019 at large R1 university, many tangible ideas around how they could start and run a research program at their institution, and the key areas they need to explore - and staff - as they start a research program for undergraduates. In addition, by the time the paper is submitted, the spring 2020 version of this undergraduate program will be close to completing, and details around changes/improvements made over the first year will be shared.
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