This evidence-based paper presents an assessment of the second year of a REU program at the North Dakota State University. The NDSU Department of Computer Science has hosted two years of a National Science Foundation-funded research experience for undergraduates (REU) program. The program accepted applications from undergraduate students nationwide. Students participated in the program from two-year, four-year and more research-intensive schools. This program builds on a program hosted for three years, previous to this, at the University of North Dakota. Assessment of participant learning has been a key focus of both programs. The current program focuses on research in the cybersecurity of cyber-physical systems.
REU programs are designed to introduce undergraduate students to the research environment to allow them to determine if they are interested in research as a career. Providing undergraduates with this opportunity allows them to determine whether they want to pursue graduate education to prepare for a career in a research area. In the computing disciplines, there are opportunities to pursue research careers immediately after graduating from a bachelor’s program. REU participation, thus, can help students determine whether they wish to pursue these opportunities as well. Effective REU programs empower participants to take on leadership roles and help them see themselves in the position of graduate students and professional researchers.
This paper presents an overview of the second year of the NDSU REU program in cybersecurity for cyber-physical systems and discusses key changes made between the two years. It provides an overview of the student research topics that were selected by the students, during the second year, as well as discussing, in particular, changes to how topic generation and selection occurred during this year. The impact of this change is assessed from both qualitative and quantitative perspectives, using student response data to an end-of-experience survey.
The survey collected participants’ demographic information and asked them about their reasons for participation. It also asked them to identify the benefits that they had sought from participation and whether they had attained them or not. It asked them about their pre- and post-participation statuses, with regards to several key metrics (such technical skills and excitement), and soft skills. The survey also asked participants about the attribution of the gains that they made to program participation.
Participants were asked about participation in specific activities and whether certain outcomes were achieved. The survey combined questions from the commonly-used Undergraduate Research Student Self-Assessment (URSSA) instrument with questions that were developed for assessing research experiences in the computer science and cybersecurity research disciplines.
The paper begins with an overview of the program, discussing the schedule of the program as well as key objectives of the program and their mapping to particular points on the schedule. Both research activities and the concurrent social program are discussed and their impact on the student participant experience is assessed.
It then presents the assessment data. In particular, it focuses on the impact of the changes made between program years.
The paper concludes with a discussion of the program’s efficacy and participant benefits. Planned future changes and activities are also discussed.
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