Participation in research experiences for undergraduates (REU) has shown positive impacts on both undergraduate students and faculty mentors. For undergraduate students themselves, participation in REU program has shown positively effects in improving analytic and critical thinking, academic achievement and retention, and graduate school application. However, how to effectively engage the undergraduate students during and after REU program in order to maximize the positive impacts is always a challenge for most REU sites.
Our REU site is designed to develop and implement a model environment for multidisciplinary collaborative efforts where research and education are tightly integrated around the different facets of energy research. In the first year, each research team was comprised of one faculty mentor, one graduate student and one REU student, while each REU student conducted different research projects. In the second year, most research teams (except one team) were comprised of one faculty mentor, at least one graduate student, and at least two REU students, while each REU student conducted different tasks under the same research project.
In this paper, the authors analyze the student engagement in the first two years through students’ performance, different surveys, follow-up phone interview. Students’ performance includes their weekly progress reports, final presentation and report, and publication efforts. There are different surveys conducted during the REU program, including pre and post surveys for REU student, and surveys for faculty and graduate student mentors at the end of REU program. And a follow-up phone interview was conducted by an external evaluator every year. The student engagement during the REU program is analyzed based on the results from REU students’ pre and post surveys, faculty and graduate student mentors’ surveys, as well as part of the follow-up phone interview. The student engagement after the REU program is mainly related to the REU students’ continued research efforts, and is analyzed based on the follow-up phone interview and student-faculty interaction after the REU program.
The results show there is improvement in the student engagement level by comparing the two years data. Despite the differences of REU participants themselves (i.e. REU students, faculty and graduate student mentors) and research project topics in the two years, the authors believe that the major reason leading to the improvement in the student engagement is that the designs of the program itself in the first two years are different. Making REU students working on different tasks under same research project as small groups instead of individual research project shows some advantages of helping engaging REU students during and after the REU program. Detailed changes, findings, and lessons learned will be discussed in the paper to support this observation.
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