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 focuses on automotive and energy-related research projects. The AERIM REU program at Oakland University aims to engage participants in rewarding automotive research experiences that excite and motivate them to pursue careers in scientific and engineering research, and seeks to address the nationwide problem of the under-representation of women and minorities in the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
REU programs are designed around the needs of the undergraduate student participants. The research projects, seminars, laboratory/industry tours, meeting with mentors, networking events and other activities are all set up to maximize the positive impact of a research experience on the students. After all, numerous studies have shown that active participation in hands-on undergraduate research is one of the most effective ways to attract and retain talented undergraduate students, motivate them towards pursuing careers and advanced degrees in engineering and science, to help them feel more connected to their educational experience and to provide them with a greater sense of empowerment as learners. While many student participants have benefited over the years from their REU experience, the AERIM REU decided to introduce a service learning component to its program. One of the distinguishing features of service learning programs is that the goal is to benefit both the students providing the service and the persons receiving it. Service learning programs also help students improve their interpersonal skills and develop a better understanding of the needs of diverse groups of people while also benefiting the recipients of the activity. AERIM REU students, led by a former REU program participant, were tasked with developing outreach activities and presentations for K-5 students in an economically disadvantaged charter school in Detroit. The outreach activities were meant to excite the K-5 students about STEM and to provide them with an opportunity to engage in some hands-on activities. In this poster, we report on the organization and results of this initiative. Assessment results of the service learning activity will also be shared. We believe that this type of information could prove to be of value to other REU program directors and faculty seeking to organize similar programs.
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