2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Implementing a Challenge-Inspired Undergraduate Experience

Presented at Works in Progress: Curricula and Pathways

This work in progress describes the development and implementation of challenge-inspired undergraduate experience. Many students choose engineering but lose interest when faced with learning foundational concepts with no connection to real-world problems. The Cancer Scholars Program (CSP) creates this connection by interweaving a real-world problem throughout multiple courses in the four-year curriculum. Traditionally, students learn engineering skills in isolated coursework; however, a community of students inspired by a grand challenge will develop interest in engineering by learning to apply foundational principles to understand the real-world problem.

In fall 2014, the CSP enrolled its first cohort of twelve, high achieving freshmen students (average ACT = 33.8) with five being female and four being first generation students. These students participated in the Frontiers in Cancer Research course where Ted-style talks on cancer research were delivered, followed by facilitated discussion. In teams, students developed informational videos on a cancer related topic. In spring 2015, students joined research laboratories based on their interest. At the end of the first year, the CSP retained ten of the initial twelve students. During summer, the ten students participated in research on campus or at another university.

In fall 2015, the CSP enrolled the second cohort of twelve students (average ACT 34.8) with six being female and one being first generation. The second cohort is progressing through the Frontiers in Cancer Research course and identifying research interests. The first cohort is continuing research experiences and participating in the Healthcare Innovation and Translation course focused on translation to use, ethics, commercial translation, policy, and FDA regulations. For this class, the students will generate a mock new device exemption (NDE) for submission to the FDA. In spring 2016, the first cohort will continue research and finalize summer immersion plans (clinical or industry).

All students are highly engaged in the program and have formed a close community of supportive peers. The first cohort participated in a focus group (n=11) to identify positive aspects and areas of improvement. Responses demonstrated the first cohort wanted to support the second cohort by vertical mentoring, providing laboratory tours and technique training, and social events. Other recommended items included using the program as a university recruiting tool and creating an honors certificate for the program. To provide support to the second cohort and develop the CSP community, structured time was allotted for the first cohort to meet and socialize with the second cohort. In addition to the supportive community that has developed, CSP students have been successful in the research setting with three of the first cohort presenting (as sophomores) at the national Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) meeting.

Through the CSP, students develop a community of support, mentoring, and intellectual pursuit. In addition, the CSP is appreciated by females as all females in the first cohort remained in the program, and females represent fifty percent of the second cohort. During each year in the CSP, students participate in undergraduate research, interact with the CSP faculty in coursework/experiences, and engage in experiences that allow them to determine their career trajectories.

  1. Dr. Marcia Pool University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign [biography]
  2. Prof. Rohit Bhargava University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [biography]
  3. P. Scott Carney University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign [biography]
  4. Prof. Dipanjan Pan University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign [biography]
  5. Prof. Andrew Michael Smith University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign [biography]
Download paper (598 KB)

Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper? Visit the ASEE document repository at peer.asee.org for more tools and easy citations.